Campus News

An ounce of prevention

All instructors have a significant role in creating, maintaining a culture of honesty

I have served as an academic honesty panelist for more than a decade, and it is without question the most heart-wrenching thing I do in service to this university. Cases of academic dishonesty are taken seriously by the university, and the consequences can be life-altering if a student is found to be in violation of the policy. I have seen undergraduate students lose their chances at a college education and graduate students lose their chances at a career.

While it is tempting to place the burden for academic honesty on students, the truth of the matter is that faculty bear some responsibility, too. Yes, students are the ones who make the deliberate choice to buy a paper online, to bring a crib sheet to an exam or to lie about a death in the family to get an extension on a deadline. Clearly, in these cases, the students are responsible for their choices. But instructors also have a significant role in creating and maintaining a culture of honesty at the University of Georgia.

I use the term “instructors” deliberately to signal that all instructors, whether faculty, temporary instructors, or graduate teaching assistants, have a shared responsibility for protecting the academic integrity of the university. Departmental administrators have a special responsibility to ensure that transient instructors and graduate teaching assistants are informed of the university’s commitment to academic honesty and each instructor’s role in upholding this commitment.

Many of us have embraced newer pedagogies, but have failed to be clear with our students about the rules surrounding newer forms of instruction and assessment and modern uses of technology, leaving them vulnerable to charges of academic dishonesty. Group work, for instance, is a slippery thing. What does it mean to work with a group but then to turn in your own copy of an assignment? There are multiple different (and defensible) answers to that question, but students have no way of knowing which answer applies in a given course (or for a particular assignment in a course) unless we tell them explicitly what we expect. Similarly, with the widespread availability of the Internet, it is becoming less clear what information is in the public domain and what must be cited. And different instructors have different expectations regarding what constitutes acceptable assistance for an assignment that involves technology.

I have found that being upfront, clear and direct about expectations is the best way to prevent problems.

And don’t assume that graduate students are immune to issues of academic dishonesty. I have seen cases of international students who were unfamiliar with our norms for citation of sources and others whose plagiarism was linked to their still-evolving comfort with the English language. I also have seen cases where a department’s practices surrounding comprehensive examinations (taken on-site or as take-home work) were not well defined, leaving students vulnerable to accusations.

When I design the syllabus for a course plan the first day of class or present an assignment in class, I take into account Benjamin Franklin’s admonition that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I don’t hide behind the requisite statement on the syllabus that “All academic work must meet the standards contained in A Culture of Honesty. (Academic Affairs Policy Statement No. 13). Rather, I take time in class to make explicit remarks about the university’s expectations for academic honesty and my expectations that are specific to the nature of my course. When I introduce an assignment that involves group work or where there might be any gray area about what is expected, I take time to go over the conditions under which I expect the assignment to be done, and I allow time for questions.

I’ve seen the “pound of cure” at work as an academic honesty panelist, and I would much rather sacrifice a few additional minutes of class time on the “ounce of prevention.”