Week 3: What is Academic Integrity Anyway?

As someone who works in the humanities, reading these articles and books about academic integrity in the sciences is fascinating. In the humanities, particularly English, we deal with issues of academic misconduct and plagiarism on a somewhat regular basis. It can be very difficult to impress upon students the importance of doing their own work and properly citing material that comes from other sources. As instructors, I think it is our job to help students understand why these guidelines are in place. Not only does copying someone else’s paper not help me assess the student’s writing, but it also takes away an opportunity for that student to express his or her knowledge, get feedback, and improve his or her skills. In these cases, being dishonest really hurts the student in ways I don’t think they consider. It is important to explain to students that many of us face difficult times in our educational journies and that the appropriate response is to talk to your professor or advisor not plagiarize a paper just to get the work over with.

I see this as the situation in case presented at the end of the module. When you are in the middle of your research and things are not working out the way you had hoped, it is easy to get discouraged. We should be creating a community in which these discouraged students feel comfortable talking to advisors and mentors instead of feeling pressured just to get things finished so they can move on to the next task or get on the job market, or graduate.

In the case study from this module, serious action would need to be taken. To determine guilt, it seems the faculty in the department should be able to locate inconsistencies in the student’s field notes and the data reported. Depending on the departmental policies, they faculty may be able to review the primary data themselves. If it is found that the student does seem to have manipulated the data, then I think it would be time to bring the student in to speak with the Honor Court. This would give her an opportunity to show the court whether this was a mistake or a decisive misrepresentation borne out of pressure or some other cause. At this stage, I think previous acts should be considered before punishment is decided upon. If they student deliberately mislead and has a history of bad acts, then a harsher punishment would be warranted. If the student has been exemplary up to this point and seems to have folded under the pressure of the project, then I would recommend a more lenient punishment. Given the worst  case scenario previously mentioned, I might recommend revoking the student’s degree and not allowing her to return to Virginia Tech. Given the best case scenario previously mentioned, I might suspend her degree pending completion of a new culminating project and dissertation.

These kinds of cases are very difficult because we, as students, understand the pressures and expectations placed upon us; however, we also understand that allowing anyone to “get away with” a misdeed like this would lessen the respect that outside organizations and individuals would have for our degrees from Virginia Tech.

One thought on “Week 3: What is Academic Integrity Anyway?

  1. I agree that there are multiple sides to what could be done in the Ms. Smart case. It is ridiculous that that scenario could even happen (or happened) but at the same time, it’s not all that surprising. I suppose because of the level of the degree she received, I’d hope that she could have her degree temporarily revoked until she reworked the study and presented truthful findings to her committee. That could be punishment if enough if it were to take a large amount of time to do – yet if it were a somewhat “quick fix” then I think additional disciplinary action should be taken.

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