For many students, academic honesty is a phrase only encountered on the statement they have to copy before every exam. But since classes resumed remotely on March 23, maintaining integrity might have to become a more conscious effort.
“Students aren’t necessarily more likely to be dishonest learning online than they are learning in a face-to-face setting,” Academic Honesty Liaison Greer Murphy — who provides academic counsel to staff, faculty, and students — said. Still, “during times of stress and pressure, some students may experience more temptation to cheat,” she said, emphasizing the word “may.”
Any increase in risk of academic dishonesty, Murphy said, isn’t a reflection upon the students but on the circumstances that present more opportunities for dishonesty.
But when students slip up, what happens next?
When a suspected case of academic dishonesty arises, students face either an Instructor Resolution (they have to sign a form accepting a grade penalty), a warning letter (mainly for minor infractions), or a hearing with the Academic Honesty Board. Elaine Sia, professor and Chair of the Academic Honesty Board, oversees all warning letters and Instructor Resolutions. For more serious and multiple-time offense cases, students usually have a hearing with the board. Composed of 11 faculty members and the members of the All-Campus Judicial Council (ACJC), the board’s hearings are conducted by three faculty members and two ACJC representatives.
During the hearings, students can present their testimony. Afterwards, the presiding officer and councilmembers can ask questions prior to deciding whether the student is responsible or not. First-time offenses may result in a failing grade for the assignment, exam, or entire class, while second and third-time offenses may lead to suspension or expulsion respectively.
At first glance, this procedure may appear unnecessarily harsh. Junior Alyssa Nelson, a member of ACJC, said that although “the [policy] is strict, it is for a reason.” Despite the element of penalty, Nelson perceives the board as a “restorative justice court,” emphasizing that the process is not solely concerned with punishment. Sia said that rule enforcement is a fundamental part of the board, but added that it also “exists to give [students] an opportunity to move on without subsequently crossing lines.”
Students shouldn’t view the board “as police, or these figures imposing justice,” junior Anna Remus, a member of ACJC said. “No one on the board is looking to get people into trouble,” and penalties are meant to be “an effective learning experience, not just a punishment.”
Each case, especially those not explicitly addressed in the Academic Honesty Policy, is tailored to the individual’s circumstances. Even for third-time offenses, which typically result in expulsion, Nelson says “we take it with a grain of salt, I take a ton of time with them, the professors take a ton of time with them.”
Sia said she joined for “the students who don’t cheat, to make the community a fair playing field for everyone.” In regulating academic dishonesty, Remus said, the board serves to ensure “the work that others do honestly isn’t devalued by other students.”
Like many UR institutions, COVID-19 has forced the board into readjustment. The S/F grading policy for this semester, Remus said, might lessen the appeal of academic dishonesty. And Murphy is spearheading faculty workshops — tailor-made for each academic field — to help faculty members develop a curriculum encouraging students to “write in ways where their perspectives, opinions, ideas are integral.”
Beyond administrative and curriculum changes, academic honesty requires trust within the community. “All of us — faculty, staff, and students — are responsible for acting with integrity,” said Murphy, “and for upholding the culture of honesty, trust, fairness, and respect that we want to see on campus.”
Editor’s Note (4/9/20): A quote from Murphy was altered to reflect her meaning that any increase in risk of academic dishonesty can be attributed to the increase in opportunities.
Correction (4/9/20): An earlier version of this article used an incorrect name for Murphy’s position. She is the Academic Honesty Liaison, not the Academic Liaison.