Building a Culture of Academic Integrity

Academic dishonesty can come in a variety of forms. From roving eyes during exams to buying papers off the Internet to any number of other low or high-tech forms of cheating and plagiarism. Anyone who works in higher education is aware that this kind of thing goes on at colleges everywhere, and has for a long time. But if you want to know how often it occurs on your campus, a good place to start might be to ask the students.

“What you hear in terms of the nature and extent will surprise you,” said Gary Pavela, a noted authority on academic ethics and presenter of the seminar Making Honor Codes Work (Even If You Don’t Have One).

Something else may surprise you, too, and that is the fact that students will be your biggest ally in promoting academic integrity. Getting students involved, including creating a student academic integrity advisory committee and revising faculty evaluation forms to include a question on whether the faculty member took adequate measures to prevent cheating and academic dishonesty, will go a long way to establishing a culture of academic integrity.

“The best way to bring discussions about academic integrity to life is to involve students in creating and enforcing academic integrity policies,” says Pavela. “Students in those kinds of leadership positions are often highly effective in influencing their peers.”

At the heart of creating a culture of integrity is communication – among faculty, administration and students. That communication can range from faculty asking students to make an honor commitment in advance of a major test or assignment, to inviting student leaders to speak with classes on the importance of academic integrity, says Pavela.

Pavela also encourages colleges and universities to disseminate an annual report to all faculty and adjuncts explaining why there is an honor code, their role in reducing academic dishonesty, the penalties for violating the code, and other relevant information. The report, which should be co-signed by a student leader, also should provide data on the number of cases that occurred on campus in the past year, and how they were resolved.

The report also should provide answers to such key questions as:

  • Can students who cheated in high school be persuaded not to cheat in college?
  • How can faculty help students understand the importance of academic integrity?
  • What can faculty do to reduce academic dishonesty?
  • What penalties are imposed?
  • I reported a case and the student wasn’t punished, why should I report another?

“One of the most important benefits of an honor code is a cultural climate that supports the core institutional value of academic integrity,” says Pavala. “Elimination or reduction of the ‘us vs. them’ mentality may be one of the primary reasons schools with honor codes have less academic dishonesty than schools without honor codes.”