Honor Bound
Academic integrity and red tape


 

Honor Bound
Academic integrity and red tape


"We really have to pay attention to the culture that we set for the students--not just the code itself, but the way it's communicated and reinforced."
Diana Robertson, Associate Professor of Organization and Management

"Let's make the honor code and see if people want to buy into it. If they don't, maybe Emory is not the right place for them."
Thomas D. Lancaster, Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of German Studies

Perception vs. reality
Is dishonesty rampant on the Emory campus?

When faculty cheat
What happens with a faculty member falsifies data, plagiarizes, or otherwise compromises the integrity of his or her research?

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Correcting an undergraduate’s research paper over a decade ago, Associate Professor of Political Science Thomas D. Lancaster recognized his own unpublished data on voting precincts, collected during a research trip to Greece. He had shared the data with students in the same course two years earlier. To Lancaster, it was a clear case of academic misconduct; the student obviously had copied someone’s old paper.

Yet when he reported the incident to the College Honor Council, a faculty advisor to the council told him the case was unlikely to result in a conviction for plagiarism because the data was unpublished. Indeed, when the case went to trial, the student was acquitted. But Lancaster gave the student an “F” for both the paper and the course. Later, he learned the student’s final grade had been changed without his knowledge.

To this day, Lancaster is offended by what he considers unauthorized use of his work and disregard for his right to determine appropriate grades for his students. Still, if confronted with a similar situation now, Lancaster says he would report it: “I believe in the Honor Council. I think it’s been long enough I would try the system again.”

As Lancaster’s story illustrates, participating in an honor system can mean foregoing faculty privileges of authority and autonomy. But even for those determined to uphold an honor code, the clash between ideals and red tape can be frustrating. How well does the current honor system administer justice? How might the university reinforce academic integrity?

Media reports of widespread cheating at universities and the ease of plagiarism in the Internet age demand attention to these questions. In response, in 2001, President Chace convened the Committee on Academic Integrity, composed of faculty, students, and administrators, to investigate perceptions of honor at Emory and to consider the possibility of changing the present college honor system. Though the scope of the commission is now limited to undergraduate education, its work will likely expand to university-wide inquiries.

“The faculty are the owners of academic integrity both for the
faculty and for the students,” says Associate Professor of Law Michael Broyde. Yet the fact that faculty rarely agree about how best to cultivate and sustain a culture of honor at the university makes such ownership increasingly complicated.


Faculty buy-in


Each school of the university is governed by its own honor code. Faculty buy-in to the different systems varies widely, as do attitudes toward policing academic misconduct. Some professors are very supportive of the system and turn in all suspected cases; others don’t like the present system but still use it; still others circumvent the system, handling alleged cases alone or ignoring wrongdoing because they do not want to get involved. “I’ve heard professors say, ‘I didn’t get a Ph.D. to become a policeman,’” says Vice President of Campus Life John Ford.

Such lack of involvement troubles Diana Robertson, associate professor of organization and management and former faculty advisor to the Goizueta Business School Honor Council: “I think if there’s an honor system and we tell the students, ‘You must all abide by this,’ then we expect the faculty to abide by this as well. That’s because I was very involved in the process and I found it discouraging that some people don’t care or don’t want to take the time.”

Professor of History Patrick Allitt reports that in the college, a few professors have complained that during trials, “accusations sometimes turn into inquisitions against the teacher.” Some senior faculty members advise junior colleagues not to report plagiarism cases to the honor council, claiming the wheels of justice are too slow and the system places an undue burden of proof on the instructor. Yet professors are unwilling to go on the record about the anti-reporting grapevine because such behavior is itself a violation of the code.

One change that Emory College’s Associate Dean of Student Academic Affairs Sally Wolff King would welcome is an increase in the number of council members, so that cases might be adjudicated faster. As to the question of proving a student’s guilt, she says, “Professors planning accusations against students should bring convincing evidence to present to the council. Sometimes professors have only a slight suspicion that a student may have violated the Honor Code, yet the faculty members may have no evidence to bring to the council to support vague suspicions. When the council has physical evidence, or even strongly suggestive circumstantial evidence, they are more likely to render a guilty verdict and a penalty against the student.”

Many believe that faculty support for the honor system should begin in the classroom. “Nothing can substitute for the participation of faculty members in combating issues of academic misconduct,” says Joan Gotwals, vice provost and director of libraries. “Up-front discussions in the classroom of what constitutes cheating will do the most to deter it.” In May 2002, Betsey Patterson, librarian of research initiatives, authored a new online anti-plagiarism resource for students and teachers at the request of the Council on Information Resources and Technology (cirt), available online atweb.library.emory.edu/services/ressvcs/citation/citationstyles.html. The University Advisory Council on Teaching is planning a program for the spring that will offer faculty practical strategies for teaching their students to avoid plagiarism. “The library is ready to do whatever we can to help faculty members,” says Gotwals.

Others, like Michael Broyde, would rather place more responsibility for avoiding plagiarism on the students. He recalls a debate among law school faculty five years ago about whether plagiarism includes unintentional as well as intentional appropriation. The faculty determined that both types of misuse constitute plagiarism, and the school’s Professional Conduct Code reflects that decision. “The students are generally charged with understanding plagiarism as they are charged with understanding every course component,” Broyde says.

Patrick Allitt also supports student accountability. One problem in the college, he says, is that “parents put pressure on us to let students off the hook, which makes it that much less likely that the students will ever learn to act right. That’s why they end up as Enron executives.”


Under one code?


Some faculty members are agitating for change. Lancaster, for one, favors a single, university-wide code to which all members of the community are subject. It seems unlikely, however, that faculty could agree on how a broad-based code should be enforced. “The only thing you know about consensus is nobody likes it,” says Assistant Professor of Decision and Information Analysis Steve Walton.

A major question is whether graduate education in the professional schools is too profoundly different from undergraduate programs for a unified code to work. “The professional schools live in a very different world than the college does,” claims Broyde.

Robertson disagrees. “I don’t think there are any necessarily idiosyncratic aspects to the business school that mean we have to have a separate code,” she says.

What is the future of academic integrity at Emory? Ford concludes, “So much of this is driven by the faculty, what they put on syllabi, what importance they put on the issue, how much education about academic integrity they do in their classrooms, how much buy-in they have to the current system of handling cases. By looking at the results of the faculty survey [see
sidebar] and discussing this topic with the academic deans and the faculty, we really need to assess where the faculty want to go.” J.F.C.