An Integrity Manifesto

An Integrity Manifesto

In a recent online discussion on the International Center for Academic Integrity’s (ICAI) listerv, there were many suggestions offered by participants from various institutions regarding ways to deter academic dishonesty in their individual classrooms and institutions, and how to manage the impacts of reporting integrity violations. One thing was clear from these contributions: there is a lack a standardized set of criteria by which to address issues of academic integrity. Let me offer some background and my perspective.

Rapidly Growing Cheating Culture

It is not as if academic integrity is a new issue; we have been struggling as educators to deter this behavior for decades. Yet recently there is an increase in the attention paid to this issue. One explanation is that we are witnessing the emergence of a “cheating culture”; one which values getting ahead by any means necessary. A bi-annual survey from the Josephson Institute of Ethics (http://josephsoninstitute.org/) of US high school students from 2006, 2008, and 2010 strongly indicates that students, while they see themselves of high moral character, admit to a variety of dishonest behaviors. Nearly half of all students surveyed across all years claim that sometimes it is necessary to cheat to be successful. When we examine what motivates our young people, these results are not surprising. The number one priority of our high school students is to get into college. This level of extrinsic motivation, along with a sense of cynicism about the morality of their adult role models, is a dangerous recipe for creating a future generation predisposed to behaving dishonestly.

Need for an Institutional Shift

The fundamental challenge we face as college educators is to change the culture of the young adults who enter our institutions of higher learning. This is no easy task. Much of the policy that we have at each of our institutions is designed to deter cheating behavior with the threat of punitive action. Many of you in this conversation thread have provided excellent suggestions as to how you attempt to instill in your students the value of integrity, to demonstrate a concern for the future consequences of immoral behavior to themselves and to society. While I applaud your efforts, a cultural shift in our students requires support at the highest levels of the institution. As Gallant and Drinan (Can J Higher Ed, 2008, 38:25) suggest, institutional cultural shift requires buy-in at all levels, from students to faculty to staff and administration. Policies and procedures need to be clearly explained and consistently enforced. A network of support for students and faculty needs to be in place so that there is a unified front against academic dishonesty. Finally, at the highest level of the institutionalization of integrity is the formation of a formal presence on campus, such as an Academic Integrity Center, to serve as the hub for education, prevention, and promotion of academic integrity campus-wide.

Let’s Evolve, Not Reinvent

Yet, even where integrity is an institutional value statement, there is variation in the core standards by which integrity excellence is assessed. One of our members mentioned “reinventing the wheel” again and again; this is exactly what we are doing with regard to approaches to academic integrity. This reinvention of the wheel occurs at all levels; individual faculty, departments, colleges, and institutions. What we lack is a standardized set of criteria that can be used to evaluate the integrity practices horizontally across institutions, and vertically through the hierarchy within each institution.

Recently, the ICAI partnered with Software Secure, Inc., to author a set of standardized criteria by which to evaluate the integrity practices within an institution. From this partnership emerged a rubric focused on two fundamental standards—to “educate and inform”, and to “promote and protect”– founded in the literature on academic integrity. Although this rubric of integrity standards was designed for online courses, many of the premises are applicable to traditional classrooms as well. This rubric serves as the cornerstone of the newly initiated “Trusted Seal” program (http://www.softwaresecure.com/about/TrustedSealProgramAbout.aspx), a not-for-profit service provided by Software Secure and the ICAI in which courses (and institutions) are peer-reviewed by ICAI trained reviewers to evaluate integrity best practices. Those which meet the rubric criteria assessed by three peer reviews are granted the “Trusted Seal of Excellence”, which serves as a hallmark of integrity excellence practices.

The Benefit of Standards for Academic Integrity

One of the values of seeking and getting a trusted seal designation is to help manage all stakeholders’ expectations concerning academic integrity. Under the “educate and inform” standard, expectations are communicated upfront clearly and often, such that the roles of all involved—students, faculty, administration, and staff—are transparent. The “promote and protect” standard supports procedures and policies that encourage proactive approaches to academic integrity. For instance, having a proctoring system will let the students know what is expected of their behavior, and the rubric conveys why those behaviors are expected, i.e., the value of enforcement. The why piece is critical to setting expectations to change attitudes as well as behaviors. That is, a fundamental change in how we approach integrity.

April Cognato, Ph.D.
Founder and Associate Director
MSU Academic Integrity Consortium

Assistant Professor
Department of Zoology
Michigan State University

Senior Academic Officer
Software Secure, Inc.

Leave a Reply