Faculty committee recommends changes to current academic integrity policy

The proposal calls for a new centralized office to streamline reporting process

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Faculty members propose creating a new office to handle cases of cheating and academic dishonesty, after a two-year-long study showed most students and faculty find the current academic integrity policy confusing, and the disciplinary process long and overly punitive.

Through interviews with roughly 400 faculty members and 4,000 students, the authors of the study found a needlessly complicated reporting system has likely led to widespread underreporting of academic dishonesty and inconsistencies in administering penalties to students.

The numbers support that suspicion: UB sees an average of 150 academic dishonesty violations annually, while similarly sized schools report between 200 and 900 cases each year, and more than 60 percent of respondents at UB said they have observed or reported cases of cheating.

The committee behind the study, co-chaired by James Jensen, director of undergraduate studies; and Elaine Cusker, senior associate dean for undergraduate education; has proposed a revised policy addressing the problems, to be voted on at the next Faculty Senate meeting on March 6.

Among the study’s findings: most faculty members feel the current academic integrity policies are ineffective, less than half of all students said they understood the policies and faculty members largely felt the reporting process was too laborious and time-consuming.

Under current policy, instructors are the first to handle the student’s alleged violation. In many cases, the process must be referred to the department chair, then to the dean and finally to the vice provost.

Cusker, who oversaw the policy side of the committee, said the complicated process likely deterred faculty from following up on sanctions for students and kept students who witnessed cheating from reporting it.

Of the faculty members who did report academic integrity violations, one-quarter reported feeling “unsatisfied or very unsatisfied” with the outcome. Junior faculty members also expressed a reluctance to report suspicions of cheating out of concern that angry students would submit negative teacher evaluations, potentially affecting tenure promotions.

The proposed solution is a new office devoted solely to academic integrity. The proposal calls for an academic integrity officer to establish a permanent committee of faculty and students who would hear all appeals and determine sanctions.

“Our current policy is fairly complex, and I think that might scare people off from reporting. So having a simpler policy is really good,” said Graham Hammill, vice provost for graduate affairs. “There will always be more cases than we know about. And I think from a faculty point of view, you never catch all cases of cheating. So the best thing you can do is educate faculty, educate the campus, students, staff, about what is academic integrity and why does it matter.”

The to-be-created office would also offer educational resources for students and faculty, including resources for remediation –– online modules or additional coursework instructors may assign as part of the sanction.

The current policy also lags behind peer schools in its lack of remedial measures, Jensen said. He said the new policy tries to address the key reasons students end up cheating –– often a triad of stress, pressure and a lack of understanding the material.

“If students are struggling with academic integrity issues, that means they’re not learning,” Jensen said. “So, the question becomes: what do we do with those students? Can we provide them with a pathway back out of the dark side?”

“There’s always going to be consequences for people’s actions, but I think kind of the philosophy behind the new policy is getting students to become better learners and become better scholars and contributors to society,” Jensen continued.

The centralized office would also allow for more consistent disciplinary measures across campus, a frequently cited complaint from faculty during the study.

Sarah Crowley is the senior news editor and can be reached at sarah.crowley@ubspectrum.com.

@crowleyspectrum