Academic Integrity in Perspective

Excerpt from Report on Academic Integrity at AUC by Task Force on Academic Integrity (TFAI), 2003

It goes without saying that academic integrity is essential to effective learning, teaching and research, yet there is substantial evidence that academic misconduct has become a significant problem at most universities worldwide. A recent survey of 21 U.S. colleges and universities found that over 75% of students admit to some form of cheating (McCabe, 2002-2003). Results from our own AUC 2003 academic integrity survey indicate that academic dishonesty is a significant problem here as well, with over half of AUC students and faculty reporting that cheating occurs “often” or “very often.” To address these issues comprehensively the Provost, with the recommendation of the Faculty Senate, appointed a Task Force on Academic Integrity (TFAI) in the Spring 2002 term charged with assessing the problem and recommending measures for future action. It was decided from the beginning that the term “academic integrity” was preferred over the term “academic honesty” and would be examined in relation to the entire AUC community.

The instinctive response when confronted with such a widespread problem is to increase penalties, in hopes of deterring students from cheating. While this is a necessary part of encouraging ethical behavior, punishment only addresses one aspect of the situation. As academic integrity expert Donald McCabe put it, “policing is just a Band-Aid for a moral deficit that schools and parents should address.”

AUC’s 2003 survey results suggest that many students lack knowledge about academic integrity, while others do not accept this value or do not believe that it applies to them. Looking at a friend’s paper during an exam is rarely seen as wrong. “Checking to see if the answer is right or wrong is not cheating,” said one student, while others maintain “I’m not cheating as long as my friend knows and approves,” or “it is good to help other students.”

In addition, the burden is not wholly upon the students. There are many aspects of the AUC community that contribute to this problem by giving the message that grades are valued over learning.

Students’ lack of knowledge about academic integrity and/or cavalier attitude towards cheating must be addressed if AUC is to fulfill its mission as a serious institution of higher learning. To achieve this goal, we need to do more than just focus on punishment and enforcement; we need to help students to internalize a new code of values.

Internalization of the Value of Academic Integrity

The process of internalization involves, “taking over the values and attitudes of society as one’s own so that socially acceptable behavior is motivated not by anticipation of external consequences but by intrinsic or internal factors.” (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994). The process is not impossible. Grusec & Goodnow (1994) has set forth a five-pronged approach to helping students to internalize the value of academic integrity.

  • Education
  • Disciplinary measures
  • Social reinforcement of appropriate behavior
  • Positive role models
  • Positive campus environment.

This approach can be applied to AUC and could well result in a substantive change in students’ approach to the notion of academic integrity and cheating.

Education about Academic Integrity

The process of helping students to internalize the value of academic integrity should begin with education, because most students arrive at AUC with no prior exposure to this value and/or significant previous experiences that have led them to believe that cheating is normative. According to one student, “people here have no sense of what cheating is.” Others stated, “we live in a society full of cheating,” “cheating is normal,” and “in Egypt the concept of cheating is prominent in every school.”
Education about academic integrity should provide a clear definition of this concept, specific examples of appropriate and inappropriate academic conduct, and a sound explanation of why cheating is harmful.

Disciplinary Measures in Response to Cheating

Once the concept of academic integrity is clear, discipline can reinforce learning, by holding individuals accountable for inappropriate behavior. The Academic Integrity Task Force has developed a list of consequences for the range of infractions encountered at AUC. For disciplinary measures to be effective, students and faculty must consider them appropriate and fair. If students consider the penalties to be too lenient, they will not be deterred. If they think they are unreasonably harsh, they will only follow the rules when they think someone is looking, while disregarding or openly scorning them at other times. More importantly, the faculty themselves may be reluctant to enforce penalties that they consider too harsh. Overly harsh rules are also problematic because they create a negative student-teacher dynamic that impedes internalization of the desired value (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994; McCabe et al., 2001).

Education and appropriate disciplinary measures will help to curb some forms of cheating, but these actions alone are insufficient to completely eradicate the problem. To have a more lasting impact on student behavior, the value of academic integrity needs to be promoted and reinforced by all levels of the university, including the students, faculty and administration.

Students – Social Reinforcement

As many educators have noted, the adolescent peer group has a tremendous influence on student behavior. Like many groups with a strong collective identity, adolescents decide how to behave by comparing their behavior to others in their peer group, rather than to the rules of conventional society (Niels, 1996; McCabe et al, 2001). If the behavior is considered normative in the peer group—as cheating is among AUC students—it is considered acceptable. In addition, identification with the peer group “binds teenagers in a code of secrecy” which overrides the threat of disciplinary action (Niels, 1996). The strength of the student peer group at AUC can be seen in the survey finding that only 3% of AUC students had ever reported another student for cheating and virtually no student considered it realistic to expect this pattern to change.
If peer group norms have the power to encourage inappropriate behavior, they also have the power to deter it, by making it socially unacceptable to cheat. But this is unlikely to happen unless the university takes steps to diffuse the “us versus them” mentality that maintains the power of the adolescent peer group, by encouraging students to have a meaningful voice in the direction of the university.

As Niels (1996) describes, “Traditionally, schools have been hierarchical with students being at the bottom of the triangle. But educators are realizing that when trusted and when given an opportunity to participate in the vision of the school, students have a great deal to contribute. The adolescent desire to belong can be channeled into expressions of loyalty to the university, rather than the peer subgroup. As student loyalty to the university increases, cheating behavior should decrease. If students feel that they have an ability to impact the well being of the university community, they will prioritize the community’s interests over their own.”

Faculty – Modeling and Discussion

Faculty can help students to change their current values and those of their peers by serving as appropriate role models for that value. Faculty members who conduct themselves in a professional manner and discuss issues related to academic integrity with their students provide effective role models for ethical behavior. Faculty members can emphasize to their students how cheating destroys trust in the teacher-student relationship and, more importantly, robs the student of a self esteem and sense of accomplishment, because they know they did little to earn the grade they achieved (Niels, 1996). One proven method is to present the students with moral dilemmas related to cheating and let them come up with their own ethical solution. For instance, would you want a doctor who cheated his way through medical school to treat your child? (Taylor, 1998) Students who are encouraged to reason about academic integrity by generating and critiquing their own solutions to ethical dilemmas are more likely to invest in the value of academic integrity than students who are not provided with this opportunity. (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994).

Administration – Positive Campus Environment

Administrators can also help to foster student loyalty to the university and to change their current values by providing a campus environment that promotes learning over grade point average. Unfortunately, some of AUC’s current policies, such as requiring a high grade point average to declare certain majors and linking tuition payment to grades, reinforce students’ preexisting beliefs that grades are more important than learning and encourage a cynical approach to education. If AUC administrators want students to value learning over grades, they need to abolish the policies which contradict this message.

Ongoing Assessment of Attitude and Value Change

Cheating is a problem that is rife in universities all over the world, including Egypt. AUC has the opportunity to act as a positive role model in this area by implementing a program to help students to value academic integrity. Values can be changed and if AUC is going to continue to produce generations of students that will go on to manage the country, this value must be internalized.

Value change and internalization is an ongoing process which involves education, appropriate disciplinary measures, social reinforcement, modeling and discussion, and a positive campus environment. As this process takes place there should be an ongoing assessment of student and faculty attitudes and values.