It was early in the Spring 2021 semester; COVID was raging across the United States, and most of us were working from home. As a remote worker (Assistant Director of the Office of Academic Integrity at the University at Buffalo), I regularly spoke to my Director and two graduate assistants, but as time went on, we were curious about what was happening out there on virtual college campuses in our region and across the world. We were also disheartened that no conferences would be in person, and we hadn’t seen our colleagues since the ICAI conference in Portland, Oregon in March 2020 (one week prior to the world shutting down). Within this context, we reached out to a few academic integrity connections in our home state of New York – would they be interested in meeting for a Zoom call? The answer was a resounding YES! 

The inaugural meeting of the ICAI Northeast Regional Affiliate occurred via Zoom on April 28, 2021 with five academic integrity professionals: two from the University at Buffalo, two from Binghamton University, and one from the University at Rochester. We discussed the need for a regional group, the differences between our institutional policies, how to deal with group chat violations, Chegg concerns, and appropriate paraphrasing. We started a Google doc to share materials that might be helpful to each other, and we agreed to meet the last Wednesday morning of every month. 

With a few summer/winter breaks, we’ve kept the promise to meet monthly. For the past 17 months, our group has grown to include 18 institutions across a couple of states, and the conversations keep getting better every month. We discuss sticky situations (graduate students presenting plagiarized material at conferences), faculty buy-in of policies (or not), proactive initiatives (ambassadors and meme contests), and everything in between. There are core members who always attend, and other members who float in and out as time permits. What doesn’t change is the passion with which all of us approach academic honesty. 

One of the things that I’ve learned through our meetings is that academic integrity professionals are good people. Truly, they are. Most of our regional conversations center around how to educate students about expectations, how to nurture their abilities to self-reflect, how to help them make better decisions, and how to clarify the consequences of their actions. I haven’t met one professional who is in this line of work to solely punish. The nature of our labor may involve sanctioning, but we find ways to turn a difficult event into an educational experience. Sharing our educational practices benefits all institutions and improves our own practices.

Another major take-away is that our labor is varied. Some institutions have honor boards, some have offices, and some have professors who take on academic integrity work in addition to their faculty role. This doesn’t just come down to policy differences. More importantly, it involves the structure of our institutions. Are we faculty? Staff? Administration? Are we on the student affairs side of the house or the academic? Do we have the authority to make decisions, or will the ultimate sanctioning be passed up another level? So many differences make it difficult to find the people who do this work, but our regional meetings attract them and make our own labor more visible.

Sometimes academic integrity work can be lonely, exhausting, and mentally challenging, but knowing I have colleagues who are willing to share their expertise is encouraging. I’ve developed friendships within our group that would have never been possible pre-COVID, so for that alone, I am grateful. I look forward every month to our discussions and encourage each of you to find a community who speaks this language. Reach out to another institution across town. Forge a friendship and invite others. You won’t have a hard sell; most academic integrity professionals are operating by themselves. I know that my own professional growth is greatly enriched by my interactions with regional colleagues. Don’t be afraid to set up a Zoom call, take it slowly, and see where it leads.

 

*Field of Dreams. (1989).  Universal Pictures.