Academic journal article College and University

Legal Bases for Dealing with Academic Dishonesty

Academic journal article College and University

Legal Bases for Dealing with Academic Dishonesty

Article excerpt

Academic dishonesty poses a threat to the goals of every educational institution. This article draws heavily from current literature and case law to provide an overview of academic dishonesty, paying particular attention to associated legal aspects, such as due process, the content and communication of policies, sanctions, prevention, and detection.

"'This is superior work,' wrote a professor on a student's paper. 'It was excellent when Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote it, just as it is today. Saint Thomas gets an A. You get an F"' (Alschuler and Blimling 1995, p.123).

Academic dishonesty is of great concern to educators, administrators, and students alike. On the surface, it appears to be a straightforward problem of outlining and enforcing a strict code of honor: Faculty delineate the parameters of acceptable behavior, communicate these policies to their classes, expect students to adhere to the guidelines, and enforce penalties for various types of infractions. However, when administrators delve into the legal aspects of academic dishonesty, the once-clear waters suddenly become murky. To begin with, there is not universal agreement as to what constitutes academic dishonesty: what some call cheating, others call collaboration. Further, policies are not always clearly written or well communicated. In addition, faculty are faced with the difficult decision of whether to handle instances of cheating on their own or to follow stated procedures and refer the student to a disciplinary committee. Finally, faculty and administrators must be very careful not to violate students' due process rights.

This article provides an overview of key legal bases that inform institutional procedures pertaining to academic dishonesty. The goal is to enhance faculty and administrators' awareness of due process and of the need to communicate policies in a timely and consistent manner.

Overview of Academic Dishonesty

When dishonesty in the classroom is discussed, most teachers and students think first of cheating, "the academic equivalent of urban crime" (Alschuler and Blimling 1995, p.i23), which encompasses a laundry list of unacceptable behavior, such as copying or using unauthorized sources or aids while completing tests and assignments. Other forms of academic misconduct (Maramark and Marine 1993) abound, including plagiarism, falsification, and misrepresentation (Dames 2006; Hatch 1992; Maddox 1995; Roig and Caso 2005). Perhaps the most recent form of academic dishonesty stems from the misuse of technology the Internet, in particular (Applebome 1997, p.1; McCollum 1996; Ross 2005) which makes it temptingly easy for students to plagiarize papers by cutting and pasting passages from web pages (Hansen 2003; Malesic 2006; Ross 2005; Smith, Dupre, and Mackey 2005). In the classroom, misuse of technology increasingly involves cell phones equipped with cameras and text-messaging capabilities (Van Sack 2004). In short, academic dishonesty can be viewed as a range of deliberate, unacceptable behaviors that students use to gain an unfair advantage on tests and assignments (Northwestern University 2006; Nelson 1995).

Several general studies have examined the prevalence of cheating on many campuses. In his ambitious 1964 project involving 5,000 students at 99 institutions, Bowers (1964) reported that 75 percent of participants had cheated in some way at least once. More recent studies (Birchard 2006; S. Davis 1993; May and Loyd 1993; McCabe, Butterfield, and Trevino, 2006; McCabe and Trevino 1993, 1996) described increases in instances of academic dishonesty.

A few studies have focused on the causes of academic dishonesty, which include social pressure and personal values (Stevens and Stevens 1987), stress, grades, time, workload, and course difficulty (S. Davis 1993; Lipson and McGavern 1993); peer pressure, a high rate of return (i.e., less personal effort, low risk of getting caught, weak sanctions), a value system that "do[es] not prohibit cheating" (Payne and Nantz 1994, p. …

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