Week 4: Reflections on the VT Graduate Honor System & Academic Integrity at VT

Let me start by saying that I think a system like this must be in place for academia to stand up to the scrutiny of the public.

As current or prospective public intellectuals, we face pressures and challenges from both fellow academics and the public at large. When you are buried under a pile of books and journal articles writing a paper at 3am or reviewing experiment data that just does not match up with the hypothesis you had planned to build your project around, it is normal to wonder how you are going to get through this and how you are going to make it to the other side of graduate school successfully. Often, these situations seem to be the places where carelessness or desperation push determined students toward unethical solutions.

Under VT’s system, these and other students who might find themselves similarly compromised are offered a fair assessment of the suspected wrongdoing and, if found guilty, are punished to the minimum extent appropriate. Overall, by not “throwing the book” at many offenders who simply made a few bad choices, the system encourages students to learn from their mistakes. I understand that some may argue that this system does not impose high enough penalties for some offenders and may not prevent cheating, plagiarism, falsification, or academic sabotage; however, I would argue that it is the position of higher education to teach and not to punish. If a student is redeemable under the Honor Code, then it is the university’s responsibility to encourage that student to learn from her mistake and move forward. By reacting more harshly, through expelling students or placing marks on their permanent records, the system would be marring that student’s chance of ever fulfilling the educational goals that she had set for herself. This does not align with the goals of higher education or Virginia Tech.

All this being said, the system is not perfect. There are undoubtedly cases of academic dishonesty that go unnoticed and are never addressed. Furthermore, asking a group of people to determine and make decisions based on the intentions of someone else does leave room for error and manipulation from multiple angles. Students may be falsely accused or found not guilty based on faulty evidence or testimony. It is our responsibility as members of the academic community and as those affected by this Honor Code to make sure that we agree with the decisions that are being made and that we thoughtfully revisit the regulations often.

All of us have a responsibility to maintain academic integrity at Virginia Tech. The university plays its role by creating a system to air grievances and by hiring and admitting individuals that it thinks will contribute to an atmosphere of academic integrity. On the other hand, it is not the university’s responsibility to make classes “cheat-proof” or force instructors to change their course materials ever semester. We all have to take responsibility for our own contributions to academic integrity at VT, which includes not blaming the university of the poor decisions of students or instructor.

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