Answers Needed to Questions about Academic Dishonesty

South Representative

When the Academic Senate adopted the paper Promoting and Sustaining an Institutional Climate of Academic Integrity in 2007, the hope was that within a few months Title 5 language would have been worked out to give faculty more authority over grading options when cheating has been confirmed. Faculty and representatives from the Chancellor's Office diagrammed scenarios which included due process for students as well as provided options for colleges in managing incidents of cheating, specifically the work of the Admissions and Records Offices for annotating student records. The process stalled for a number of reasons, the primary of which was the focused revision of other sections of Title 5.

Incidents of cheating have not disappeared, and while the paper offered advice and suggestions, faculty and colleges still struggle with the best approach to resolving the issues surrounding academic dishonesty.

It is complicated for a number of reasons-the current Title 5 regulations state that faculty may only fail a student on the assignment where the alleged cheating occurred, an alleged act of cheating requires investigation and confirmation, few options are available to colleges and districts in documenting or resolving incidents of academic dishonesty, and other issues.

Because the issue is complex, it is possible that more questions are raised than are answered in the discussion of solutions. As the Academic Senate ponders how best to craft Title 5 language, local senates and faculty can ponder the following questions:

  1. If the instructor has the authority and expertise to determine acts of academic dishonesty in his or her discipline, and the student deserves due process, how would a process be outlined in Title 5 and implemented locally that satisfies the timely needs of the instructor, student, and college? If the student is cleared, what happens? If the student is not cleared, what happens?
  2. When confirmed cheating occurs, don't two student actions happen simultaneously? Doesn't the student perform poorly on an assignment given by the instructor AND doesn't the student demonstrate behavior in violation of college academic integrity policies? Is the instructor responsible for managing both actions? Does each action deserve separate consideration? What role does the college play in managing either action?
  3. What is the goal of the instructor and the college with respect to confirmed poor performance and unacceptable behavior? Is it to improve student behavior? Is it to punish? Is it both?
  4. If the instructor were to fail the student on a single assignment or for the entire class in which alleged academic dishonesty occurred, then what options does the student have? Would the student simply drop the class? Does the action of dropping the class satisfy the goal(s) in #3 above?
  5. Are all these students' actions equal in the following scenario? Do all three warrant equal consequences? Three students allegedly cheat on an inclass exam worth 15% of the overall grade in the course. Student A looks at the exam of the student next to him or her and copies answers; Student B brings in notes written on the inside of his or her paper coffee cup; and Student C asks to be excused during the exam to use the restroom and actually visits the tutoring center where he or she asks for help.
  6. Here is more information about the students in #5: Only one of the three students has been reported for cheating prior to this incident. Are the students equal in their actions? Are consequences for the students expected to be equal?
  7. Who has this information about prior performance by Students A, B, and C? Who should have access to it? Why?
  8. Are faculty obligated to report incidences of academic dishonesty? Why or why not? If they are obligated, who has set this requirement-the administration, the union, the senate, or all of these entities? What stake do other students in the class have in reporting such incidents?
  9. Is it possible that by allowing the college to assign consequences of confirmed incidents of cheating, faculty are actually better protected? How can the college ensure consistent and equitable treatment of students involved in alleged and confirmed incidents of academic dishonesty?
  10. Can the instructor have authority to determine academic dishonesty on a single assignment but not have authority to determine academic dishonesty for the course? Does Education Code 76224(a), "in the absence of mistake, fraud, bad faith or incompetency, [the grade determined by the faculty of the course] shall be final," limit faculty authority when academic dishonesty occurs?

This list of questions is not exhaustive, and the paper mentioned above has recommended answers to some of these questions, but many more answers are needed. Before developing Title 5 language, a course of action may be to use the above questions and others to define the goals and roles of faculty, students, the college, and the regulations in resolving issues of academic dishonesty. Once the goal and role of Title 5 regulations have been determined, then crafting the best language will be an easier task.

Those individuals tasked to develop the new Title 5 language will debate the pros and cons of each word, and the implications and ripple effect of the mandates, in order to protect the integrity of the institution and rights of students.

The solutions are not simple. By keeping Title 5 language to a minimum, however, colleges will be in charge of developing and implementing policies and practices that support local efforts to promote a college culture of academic integrity and honesty, including the full range of recommendations in the paper and more.