I have been thinking a lot about the title of my most recent book, co-edited with Dr. David Rettinger: Cheating Academic Integrity: Lessons Learned from 30 Years of Research. Cheating academic integrity. I had to sell others on the title. It wasn’t an immediate hit. It caused people to pause. Hesitate. Wonder. But that’s exactly why I loved it. We have been cheating academic integrity for decades and that should certainly give us pause.

And by we, I mean all of us. The royal we. Parents, students, teachers at all educational levels, education administrators and leaders, journalists, our governments, and the larger society. To be sure, during two years of emergency remote instruction, attention to cheating spiked. More journalists covered the increase in reported cheating. More educators and educational leaders were talking about cheating. But we were still cheating academic integrity, giving it short shrift compared to the attention we were giving cheating, its arch nemesis. 

Take, for example, the very public debate about online proctoring that occurred during the pandemic. The debate centered on a typical old refrain - students are cheating and we need to stop them. That framing of the problem pitted pro-student and anti-cheating allies against one another. We can’t do online proctoring, said the pro-student side, because it is an affront to student privacy and undermines equity. Whereas those emphasizing anti-cheating doubled down on the “we have no choice” argument if the integrity of our assessments is to be trusted and assured. In general, at least in public opinion, the pro-student side was louder and online proctoring tools became suspect. But this entire debate cheated academic integrity because it was a false dichotomy, it artificially pitted anti-cheating and pro-students as adversaries when they are actually allies. It is pro-student to be against cheating. It is pro-integrity to be for privacy (aka respect) and equity (aka fairness). We cheated academic integrity by not having a thoughtful and informed conversation to answer this question - how do we best uphold integrity, privacy and equity?

Engaging in that thoughtful conversation would have highlighted that we were facing what Rushworth Kidder calls an ethical trilemma. In an ethical dilemma, we see two values clashing and feel the need to choose between them - to sacrifice one value for the other. However, this is a false dichotomy because often there is a third solution that could uphold all of the values at stake: the trilemma. To be sure, educational leaders and even some academic integrity experts (me included) advocated for a third solution that would uphold all 3 values, for example, the use of “authentic assessments” or redesigning classes to be mastery- (rather than performance-) oriented. However, there was little tangible support behind implementing such solutions. There was no time for faculty to redesign their assessments, let alone their courses. There was also likely little training or support to help them do so. So, while well-intended, the advice to "teach better" may not have been an actual feasible solution for most faculty. To be fair, we were in a hurry. It was a stressful time and many of us were stretched thin physically and emotionally. It was an untenable situation. I am not writing now as a Monday morning quarterback, but merely to call attention to the fact that we were cheating, and continue to cheat, academic integrity.

By and large, we cheat academic integrity by failing to teach students how to make good ethical decisions even when under stress and pressure. We fail to help students develop the courage to act ethically, even when it is difficult to do so. We fail to call attention to and celebrate people who are integrous and ethical, focusing instead on noticing and even sometimes glorifying the bad actors. We fail to teach students the connections between academic integrity, personal integrity, and professional integrity. We fail to appropriately respond to cheating when it does occur so that we may create a teachable moment. We fail to recognize that the ways in which we teach and assess learning is no longer sufficient for the realities of the twenty-first century (and haven’t been for quite some time). We fail to reorganize our priorities and what we reward within the education system, continuing to reward deliverables (e.g., grades, degrees, published works) that serve as false, or at least inadequate, proxies for good teaching and learning. We fail to emphasize academic integrity within quality assurance and accreditation requirements, as if a university or a degree without integrity is still worthy of such assurance. 

To be sure, lessons learned from the last thirty years of research tell us that there are pockets of hope and good practices implementation. There are many laudable efforts by those of us within the academic integrity field. The European Network for Academic Integrity and the International Center for Academic Integrity, among other associations and organizations, continue to advance research and practice. Even some governments - like those in the UK and Ireland - are fighting the good fight, as are some quality assurance agencies like QAA and TESQA.

Yet, to me, it still seems that we are trying to save our proverbial house that is on fire with a mere garden hose. Am I being too dramatic? Perhaps. I hope I am wrong and that our entire house - the educational system - isn't on fire. I hope that there exists only little fires here and there that can easily be put out with our current strategies. And I would welcome receiving evidence that this is true. After all, if we want to stop cheating academic integrity over the next 30 years, we must address the causes of the fire rather than continuing to operate in ways that light the fire of cheating and then wonder why we're getting burned.