Developing an Honor Statement for University Students in Graduate Professional Programs

Article excerpt

Student and faculty in our graduate professional programs in physical and occupational therapy recently acted on their concerns regarding an upsurge in behaviors that were contrary to those associated with academic integrity (e.g., cheating, plagiarism, etc.). To address this issue, student leaders and faculty members met to consider ideas on how to reverse this negative trend, which ultimately led to the development of an honor statement for the department and establishment of a process for addressing issues related to academic integrity. We used a Delphi method to guide the process of collecting and distilling information, which involved a series of meetings, online surveys, and electronic voting. This article describes the process of formulating and refining that honor statement. J Allied Health 2008; 37:121-124.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY has become a growing concern among students and faculty in educational institutions across the country.1-3 Behaviors commonly associated with academic integrity include honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility.4 Recently, the graduate professional programs in physical therapy and occupational therapy in our academic department experienced an upsurge in student and faculty concerns regarding behaviors that were contrary to those associated with academic integrity. These negative behaviors included, but were not limited to, cheating on examinations, plagiarism, diminished effort on assignments, greater focus on self than on patients, and other such behaviors perceived to be negative.

In response to these growing concerns, student leaders and faculty members met to consider ideas on how to reverse this negative trend. Although college and university policies discuss academic integrity, neither of them provided a succinct statement regarding the underlying values and beliefs. Given this, students and faculty decided that one way to address their concerns was to develop an honor statement for the department, as well as a process for addressing issues related to academic integrity. The purpose of this project was to create, through consensus, an honor statement for the students and faculty in our academic department that is reflective of our values and beliefs regarding academic integrity.

The Center for Academic Integrity1 lists over 360 institutions across the United States that have developed or are developing guides of conduct driven by the shared values and beliefs of those within the organization. Many of these institutions refer to the guide of expected behavior as an "Honor Statement" or "Honor Code."3 The primary difference between these two terms is that an honor statement is relatively short, usually one paragraph, and an honor code typically involves specific lists of behaviors. Gabbay5 identified a broad array of elements that encompass honor statements and codes, reflecting that they (p421):

* nurture, refine, and instill ethical behavior; foster a moral community;

* provide an "ethical stalwartness";

* prescribe behaviors within interpretable parameters;

* promote auto-regulation;

* do not infringe on personal liberties;

* offer a description of due process for those accused of infractions; and

* provide models of sound decision-making.

Early in our process, participants determined that they preferred a brief statement encompassing their thoughts, as opposed to a list of items, and thus we adopted the concept of an honor statement rather than an honor code to serve as a guide of conduct in our academic department.

Honor statements contribute to creating a professional values framework that can assist in making ethics-based decisions. Simply put, ethical decision-making is choosing the right thing to do when faced with an issue that involves conflicting values, such as in cases involving academic integrity.6,7 A discussion of the complex processes and varying perspectives that inform ethical decision-making is beyond the scope of this article, and we refer to reader to any of a number of useful resources on the subject. …