Imagine yourself outside, in the summer, tending to your garden. You may be pruning back a rose bush, rotating the soil, adding fertilizer, planting seeds, or watering. You tend to each plant with the specific type of care, soil and water levels it needs. You perhaps even enjoy a casual conversation with your favorite plant, spending a bit of extra time with it.

You do this because you know that flowers can’t bloom and plants can’t grow without essential elements. You might even do this because you enjoy seeing things come to life, grow and flourish. Perhaps you do it because gardening provides you with a working meditation, and while you’re cultivating the garden, you are cultivating your mind.

Academic Integrity is not dissimilar to our garden plants. It requires a constant gardener to tend to it, to give it the environment that it needs to flourish, grow and root deep into the soil of the organization. When Moss Kanter (1988) wrote “When a thousand flowers bloom”, she argued that social innovations are naturally “uncertain, fragile, political and imperialistic” (p. 172). So, in order for the innovation to root within an organization, the environment must be intentionally structured and prepared to welcome the innovation. Without such intentional agency of people at all levels of the organization, a social innovation like academic integrity will likely fail to root into the depths of the organization’s soil.

This idea of rooting an innovation within the depths of an organization provides the theoretical foundation for the creation and implementation of ICAI’s Academic Integrity Rating System (AIRS). AIRS, originally created in celebration of ICAI’s 20th Anniversary in 2012, has been recently updated to reflect what we have learned over the last 10 years about how we can root academic integrity and change organizational culture. 

The intent of AIRS is to provide colleges and universities with the essential elements needed to root academic integrity into their soil and to allow it to flourish and grow. In other words, the essential elements for creating a culture of integrity, which is a known requirement for reducing cheating and enhancing integrity (McCabe & Trevino, 2002).

What are these essential elements? In this new version of AIRS, we group the essential elements under 7 components: 

  1. Administrative Leadership & Support
  2. Faculty Engagement & Support
  3. Staff Engagement & Support
  4. Student Engagement & Support
  5. Education & Communication
  6. Policies & Procedures
  7. Research & Evaluation

Think of each component as akin to the essential elements needed for a healthy garden: the water, temperature, soil, bed, fertilizer, winter care, and summer care. Within each component, there are indicators - evidence of the progress of rooting academic integrity into the organization’s soil. Think of the indicators as akin to the signs that your plant is healthy: the depth of the roots, root health, the number of blooms, the vibrancy of colors, the length of the bloom, the quantity of fruit or vegetables produced from the plant, and so on. Each component has indicators of course, but not all have the same number given the power or ability of a component to cultivate academic integrity varies. 

These seven components and their indicators tell us what needs to be in place to create that culture of integrity, a state of the organization in which integrity is so normalized and routine that it is “just the way we do things around here”. AIRS then helps institutions determine how rooted each indicator, and thereby each component, is within their organizational culture. It does this by providing descriptions of what the indicator looks at each phase of change as in the example in the table. Under the Faculty Engagement & Support component, is the Knowledge & Awareness indicator at the Starting Gate, or is it at the Emerging, Developing or Transforming stage?


To return to our garden analogy, the Starting Gate would be akin to you determining you’d like a garden and you’re getting ready to build and fill it. At the Emerging stage, you would have planted some seeds and you’re now seeing some sprouts and sprigs growing up from the ground. At the Developing stage, your garden would be full with plants, but still requiring a lot of care to ensure they keep flourishing, and maybe there is not yet as many blooms, fruits or vegetables as you expect are possible. And finally, your garden at the Transforming stage would be established and healthy, producing plenty of blooms, fruits and vegetables, and while it still needs constant care and attention, it has taken on a life of its own and can withstand the occasional threats or pests as long as those threats and pests are not allowed to spread or persist.

AIRS is a rubric - a self-assessment tool - that enables institutions to dig into their academic integrity activities to see what they are doing well (causes for celebration) and where there are areas for improvement (target points for resources and efforts). AIRS is also a great conversation starter; a quick self-assessment by a key administrator can identify questions they want to ask or people they want to contribute. AIRS should be used at multiple points in time, for example when an institution is just beginning its work to truly assess the institutionalization of academic integrity and then again later when there has been concerted effort and the institution wants to assess its progress.

The updated AIRS will be released later this year after some beta testing of the instrument by ICAI members. If you would like to learn more about AIRS, I invite you to join us on March 10th at 11:00 am EST for our session at the 2022 ICAI Conference. Click here for more information on the ICAI Conference and to register. If you are unable to attend the session, but would like to learn more about AIRS and participate in the beta testing, please fill out this form.


McCabe, D. L., & Trevino, L. K. (2002). Academe, 88(1), 37-41.

Moss Kanter, R. (1988). When a thousand flowers bloom: Structural, collective and social conditions for innovation in organization. Research in Organizational Behavior, eds. Staw BM and Cummings LL, 10, 169-211.