What do do?

This is a refrain I heard often during my week in Kyiv, Ukraine.

I was there to participate in the final meeting of the American Councils for International Education’s Strengthening Academic Integrity in Ukraine Project (SAIUP) and Strengthening Academic Integrity in Secondary Schools Project (SAISS). These projects are impressive. In just over 3 years (so far), they have made significant movement on academic integrity across the country. In fact, just 4 years ago, few in Ukraine had even heard the term “academic integrity”! Now, there are academic integrity conversations happening in schools and universities across the country, there are universities with honor pledges and academic integrity policies, there are student awareness campaigns and professional development for faculty, there is a national law supporting academic integrity, and the government has set up a National Agency for Quality Assurance in Education.

To be sure, there is still work yet to be done in Ukraine, but these are all signs of progress. And this progress is to the credit of the significant dedication of the SAIUP/SAISS team, their allies in the government, and their colleagues/consultants in the trenches. Their passion for academic integrity and their belief in its ability to stem corruption in their country is inspirational. It very much reminds me of the passion and focus on quality in education that I witnessed in Montenegro with their Strengthening Academic Integrity project. I think that western educational systems have a lot to learn from Ukraine and Montenegro; in particular, that academic integrity is an instrument of educational quality and should not be ignored in order to pursue the status quo.

Now, it is important to note that the Ukrainian passion for the promise of academic integrity is not naive; it is contextualized and grounded in the challenges they have ahead of them. This grounding is heard in their refrain “but what to do?”. This refrain is not so much uttered as a question looking for an answer, but rather a variation of “it is what it is” or the proverbial sigh that indicates an acceptance of reality. So, I heard this “what to do?” refrain uttered at the end of a passionate exposition on the challenges they are facing such as the acceptance of cheating by parents, students and teachers alike, the resistance to change, or the difficulty of talking about integrity when the Ukrainian translation of the word doesn’t really resonate with the people.

I found that this grounding of passion served as a sort of reprieve from the extraordinary work that they are doing. It didn’t represent resignation or capitulation. Rather, it represented a reality-check, an acknowledgement of the power that culture and institutions exert on human behavior and their ability to change. It represents the pause that change leaders must take to remind themselves to not push so hard or so fast that they push people away from, rather than draw them toward, the challenge of change.

This “what to do?” reminded me that we have to be kind to ourselves and others as we push for change. We must recognize that change is difficult - we cannot ask people to change their behaviors, their values, and their goals without assistance, time, and compassion. We must learn to simultaneously accept and challenge our current realities. Perhaps we accept a little and then push a little, artfully navigating back-and-forth between these two levers of change to create small wins along the way to the big win - the institutionalization of academic integrity within the fabric of our culture and our institutions.

So, what to do?

Speak honestly to address the obstacles to integrity cultures, but be respectful of existing traditions and proceed fairly in a responsible manner. When we do this, people will trust us and be more likely to join us in the movement.