Academic Integrity, or the Lack Thereof

You know it’s an issue when I take to my own blog to vent about issues at the dayjob. And at the moment, I’m bothered by events surrounding finals week here on campus.

It happens to be my alma mater. I’m still paying off student loans for my bachelor’s degree, and the alumni office is still asking me for money. Considering that I’ve learned the ins and outs of this place, there are plenty of reasons why I refuse to give money in the form of donations to any program here. I’m a disgruntled alumnus, and a disgruntled graduate student.

But why? Rampant violations of a campus academic honesty policy, and a learned helplessness within the faculty that is perpetuated by a lack of serious consequence for students.

(If there IS a serious consequence that has occurred in the last two years, I will publicly retract my statements. At the same time, this is MY blog, MY webspace, and I’ve said far more scandalous things in podcasts. Ask Nobilis Reed. Please, bring up the pussy spiders and tentacle monsters. I’m *waiting* for that day.)

The issue of students cheating in higher education isn’t new; the issue of students cheating at this particular campus isn’t new, either. Many faculty blame the high percentage of international students, which I find rather offensive. People from all backgrounds cheat, just as people from all backgrounds are honest and act with academic integrity. Students cheat out of desperation to have an A on an exam or to maintain a certain GPA. Others cheat to “help” their friends… and I’ve even had a student who was threatened and attacked by other students when the student refused to assist them in cheating.

The issue that’s bunching up my big girl panties is the faculty and instructors who don’t do anything when they observe cheating. When they see students snapping pictures with their cell phones, they don’t call the student out in class because they don’t want to disrupt other students. When they receive papers that have reports of 80% plagiarism, they don’t follow through with calling in the student and taking the issue to the department head. They complain about the issue, when their complacency is part of the problem.

“But Miss V,” you say, like one of my darlings in my classrooms. “They don’t do anything because the university doesn’t do anything. My prof says that even if he takes it to the department head, nothing happens! So what do they do?”

What I do. Write them up anyway and maintain the consequence. My students sign a contract at the beginning of the semester that states all class policies and consequences if those policies are violated. Plagiarize an assignment, and you earn a zero. The student is written up, with emails and documentation sent to my department head as well as the Dean of Student Life. The whole process is about as complicated as toast. If I can do it, I have a hard time believing that a more established professor can’t do the same thing.

As a student, it bothers me that professors would rather allow cheating to go without consequences rather than defend the integrity of their courses. As an instructor, it bothers me that my peers (and I’ll stick to that term when it comes to this university, what I teach, how I teach, and the skill and care with which I teach) would rather complain and blame instead of recognize and follow through with the consequences they profess to carry.

“But you don’t get it,” a professor says. “My dean won’t back me up. They keep students who cheat. We can’t kick out the students who are repeat offenders, we need their tuition. If I speak up, they’ll laugh at me.”

And to that, I can only shake my head. I’ve gotten laughed at when I’ve brought these things up. My poor Pollyanna morals have no place in academia anymore, it would seem. Is this what we’ve come to? An institution, much like many throughout the United States, where it is more important to retain the dishonest student who will consistently write a check rather than to maintain the integrity of what we teach and dismiss those who would cheat their way to a degree. Is this place going to earn a reputation as a degree mill?

I don’t know. I’ve had to learn (am still learning) the difficult lesson that I cannot change people, I can only change how I interact with them. I cannot force people to change, nor can I expect people to change, no matter how upset I am with their choices or actions. At the same time, I think that this university – as well as others much like it – needs to address the issue of academic dishonesty and better empower its professors to handle the problem while having an active administration that is willing to defend the academic integrity of the institution. Otherwise, having a degree from such a place will be valued less than the paper on which it is printed.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 30th, 2014 at 6:00 pm and is filed under academics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses to “Academic Integrity, or the Lack Thereof”

  1. scoobie ryan Says:

    You’re right, they’re wrong. It’s that simple. Stand firm.

  2. Anne Elizabeth Baldwin Says:

    That does sound like quite a problem. Sounds like you’re handling it about as well as anyone could, I’m afraid. I’m very sorry to hear your school has reached this point. {sympathetic look}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  3. Doc Coleman Says:

    What is the difference between allowing students to cheat, and taking bribes to change a grade? Answer: The professor who takes bribes benefits directly instead of indirectly, and is therefore prosecuted.

    For some reason, institutional ethics tend to be the first casualty in tight economic times. I suspect this is because everyone expects someone else to uphold institutional ethics. A violation of personal ethics, such as a professor taking bribes, becomes solely the responsibility of the individual and is immediately punished.

    Unless the individual is paying the institution. Go figure.

    You can either stay there and fight for your institutional ethics, or you can find another academic institution to be part of. Or you can do what the other professors do and pretend that looking the other way doesn’t sully your reputation.