In this second edition within my blog series on academic integrity policy, I want to address three common questions that arise when developing or revising institutional policies and procedures.

Are we going to have a Zero-Tolerance approach to cheating?

Zero-tolerance policies, once a popular experiment in educational behavioral modification starting in the 1980s through the early 2000s, can still be found in many institutional policies across the world.  Zero-tolerance typically means that the institution will expel a student for their first reported policy violation. Such a policy is considered to have a two-fold deterrence benefit: a.) general deterrence, persuading anyone against even considering cheating due to the possible ramifications; and b.) specific deterrence, that a student will never cheat again and may never practice the art or science they were training for if they are removed from college all-together.

For an effective and ethical zero-tolerance policy, enforcement requires robust and ever-present awareness and advertisement mechanisms at the institution. Students must hear about this policy from orientation day to every class syllabus to each individual assignment so thats students are effectively put on notice.  Such policies often create a community atmosphere, where students and faculty join in a civic-minded approach to academia. An honor code regularly (but not always) coincides with the policy, asking students to report the transgressions of others to maintain responsibility and honesty in the institution. For an example of such a system, see the University of Virginia’s Honor Committee..

There are some drawbacks to this approach.  Some have questioned the equity involved, noting that those without robust socio-economic resources are more likely to be caught and put through the process.  These students are then ultimately expelled, without a possible benefit of the doubt that would be granted to a more connected student. Others note that while cheating should not be tolerated, some students under pressure may make poor choices and should be granted the lesson of failure and learning from one’s mistakes.

Who should facilitate the resolution of academic integrity violations?

An ongoing concern with all academic integrity policies is the equity or fairness of the process for reporting and resolving suspected violations..  Instructors sometimes well-meaningly do not report instances of cheating that they consider to be first-time offenses, when the student is sufficiently repentant, or the transgression is of low-enough egregiousness.  Towards the opposite side of the potential problem, some instructors may be inadvertently too harsh on some populations of students or is unknowingly uneven in their punishment from instance to instance.

To make enforcement more consistent and the rights of the student maximized, some institutions have moved to a facilitator model.  Whenever a report of an instance comes in, a neutral third-party is assigned to provide assistance for the case. They can serve as a mediator, explain the policies, and bridge to next steps if required.  This assures students remain aware of their right to appeal, feel empowered to take advantage of it, and instructors are free to make judgment calls with reduced chances of prejudicial treatment.

A challenge to this approach is its requirement for additional staffing, training, and follow-through.  Facilitators need to be trained, as do all faculty and, to a certain degree, students. Faculty may also be incentivized to not report instances of integrity violations, as doing so takes significant time and effort.  And it may lead to their decisions being appealed and decided against their opinion on the matter.

For more on this approach, see such an example as Ryerson University.

What’s an alternative to the zero-tolerance approach?

A modern approach to academic integrity has led to an increased desire for restorative justice.  Instead of traditional punishment, restorative practices look to see students not only learn from their mistakes, but to simultaneously re-establish their standing and give back to the institutional community.

In many versions of this method, the process begins with the student admitting to, and seeking to pay back, for their offence.  The student then meets with members of the community, including faculty, administration, and other students to verbally work through what they have done and how they can give back to the community.  In addition to a remedial assignment, a student may also volunteer their time to the process itself by helping others through similar situations or through other, varied opportunities. The process looks to rebuild trust and take public accountability for their actions. For more on this approach, see such an example at the University of Minnesota’s Academic Integrity Matters (AIM) program.

Some question the practical deterrence effect given the lack of real punishment. Without that punishment, the student may not feel the full ramifications of their transgression and the process may incentivize recidivism.  Opponents to a restorative approach tend to think that harsh punishment is deserved for wrongdoings, that a person deserves a failing grade, suspension, or expulsion for breaching the trust of an institution.


As always when considering developing or revising an academic policy, make sure to seek feedback from all of your institution’s stakeholders on which features will  be a good fit for your unique community.

For the blog post this week, I asked Dr. Camilla Roberts, Kansas State University, to describe the Development & Integrity Course that many K-State students take after a violation of academic integrity. The course has existed since 2000 and provided inspiration to other Universities that now also offer similar type courses (e.g., University of California, San Diego). While coordinating and teaching such a course in-house requires some resources, the in-person, in-context learning after a violation can be extraordinarily beneficial for leveraging the cheating moment as a teachable moment. This might be experiential learning at its finest hour. ~ Tricia Bertram Gallant, Editor, Integrity Matters Blog


When students are academically dishonest in higher education, the institution has the choice to sanction the student with or without removal from the institution.  Kansas State University (K-State), as well as many other institutions, will often sanction a student with a grade, but will allow the student to remain in classes; however, the administration at K-State want to ensure that students learn from their choices and will strive to not repeat them.

Therefore, Kansas State has been sanctioning many students with an eight-week, one-credit hour course entitled “Development and Integrity.”  The DI course as it is more commonly known is taught seven times during the academic year (both face to face and online). Not only does this class give the sanctioned students the ability to learn from their mistakes, it also gives a variety of graduate students (traditionally in the student affairs/college student development program) the opportunity to teach in the classroom as the primary instructors of the course.

The course has evolved some since it’s first offering in the spring of 2000; however, the following main components are still discussed during each session:

    1. Plagiarism: What is plagiarism? What are citations? Why do I need to cite?


    1. Unauthorized collaboration and unauthorized aid: What are these and why can I not work together with another person or have outside assistance?


    1. College student development and moral development theories: The focus is mainly on the theories of Chickering, Kohlberg, and Gilligan, allowing the students to explore their own development.


    1. Personal Values: What does each student value inside and outside the classroom and how does that tie into respect for others?


    1. Integrity outside the classroom: What do we see on a daily basis on the news that lacks integrity? What ethical dilemmas might they face upon graduation in the workforce?


    1. Technology and academic integrity: How has technology changed violations in academic integrity?


    1. Reflection and refocus on the student’s individual violation: After examining their own morals and values and understanding academic integrity, how have their thoughts about their own violation changed since the beginning of the course?

During one of the final assignments for the course, the students are asked what one thing they would say to the person or persons who sanctioned them to take this class.  While we of course do have the few students who might still want to argue with the professor or say the class was not worth their time, the overwhelming majority of the students wish that they would have been able to take the class when they first came to campus and then they might not have been in the position which caused them to be required to take the course.  So now, Kansas State is working to determine what kind of proactive education can be used to help students before a violation occurs. 

Helping students understand academic integrity (AI) and how it applies to them is a difficult task. How do you engage students to learn about a topic they either think they know or one that they think doesn’t apply to them (i.e., they’ll never break the rules or cheat)?

The International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE) is an oversight organization serving higher education, globally.   The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is a United States (U.S.) based, non-governmental agency with international membership.  Administration, faculty, staff and some students at schools, colleges and universities are made aware when “accreditation” is looming.  Typical “accreditation” in the U.S. may be regional (i.e. WSCUC, SACS, etc.) or discipline specific (i.e. AACSB [Business and Accounting], CCNE [Nursing], etc.).

A colleague (Phil Newton) recently published an article in Frontiers in Education that has received a lot of press. “Students worldwide pay to cheat” and “1 in 7 college students pay people to write essays” are just two example headlines. The issue at hand is something we call “contract cheating” (coined by Thomas Lancaster & Robert Clarke), which can be defined as students arranging for another to complete academic assessments that they then submit for academic credit. The press has ignored the nuances in Phil’s article, so Phil will be writing a blog post later this year as a follow-up to his study and the press that covered it.

As we wrap up Labor Day weekend, we also wrap up the summer. Many schools and campuses are back in session already, while others will begin in September. At this time of the year, it is a good time to reflect on the question - what is the main message we want to send to our students, our faculty, our administrators and ourselves? At UC San Diego, that message is "excel with integrity". At a highly competitive university like UC San Diego, it is important to remind the entire community that there can be no excellence without integrity.

Fake news.

This phrase is ubiquitous in traditional and contemporary media. It is, according to the Washington Post, regularly tweeted out by the US President and its use has spread globally as a weapon against not only free press but democracy. Just recently in Uganda, for example, a popular singer who has been an outspoken critic of political corruption in Uganda has been jailed by the President in a military facility but the President decries reports of the singer’s fate as “fake news”.

Is there a lot of cheating on our campus?  What’s a lot of cheating, anyway? Do students not know, or not care?  Is the internet making things worse? If you had asked these questions in the 1980’s, you might have received an answer, but it would have been at best an educated guess.  In 1990, Dr. Don McCabe started a career of groundbreaking research on academic integrity, which lasted until his retirement in 2014. It resulted in the creation of the leading assessment of academic integrity and hundreds of publications which answered questions like those above, and many others.  

Creating an effective and well-followed academic integrity policy at your institution does not have to be difficult, overly legalistic, or a chore to establish.  In the first post of a series on academic integrity policy, this details a process on how to establish the integrity values of your institution and a process to implement them with all stakeholders getting involved.

By: Vicky McNeilan | April 5, 2018

Abstract: This webinar will showcase the Academic Integrity Matters (AIM) program at the University of Minnesota, a restorative justice program for students intended to provide greater understanding of the impact of scholastic dishonesty through a facilitated dialog with University community members. This webinar will address the program inception, stakeholder persuasion, advertisement, volunteer recruitment, administrative management, facilitation, and evaluation.