[Fresh] Academic honesty

John Immerwahr (john.immerwahr@villanova.edu)
Thu, 14 Dec 2000 10:56:17 -0500

This a posting for Fresh@News, Villanova's e-mail news service for
parents and friends of the class of 2004. New subscribers can see the
previous postings at: http://news.villanova.edu/fresh/

Interview with Dr. John Immerwahr, Associate Vice President for Academic
Affairs and Chair of the Academic Integrity Board.

Fresh@News: What does the phrase "academic integrity" mean at Villanova?

Dr. Immerwahr: On the positive side, by academic integrity we mean an
approach to academic work characterized by a desire to learn as much as
possible, rather than seeing academic work in terms of trying to get the
highest grade for the least work. Most us on the faculty went into
higher education because we love learning for its own sake, and we try
to communicate that passion to our students. It also means being very
careful about how we use other people's ideas. As scholars, we treat
intellectual property with enormous respect, and we expect our students
to be as careful about respecting intellectual property as we want them
to be about respecting the ownership of physical property.
Our emphasis on academic integrity also means that we expect our
students not to cheat, plagiarize papers, fake results in their lab
reports, or collaborate with each other on projects that are supposed to
be done individually. As an Augustinian institution, we talk a lot
about ethics and values, and we try to teach the same high standards of
conduct in academic work that we expect in other areas of conduct.
Ultimately those who cheat in their classes betray the trust of their
fellow students, and cheat themselves out of an education.

Fresh@News: Is cheating a problem at Villanova?

Dr. Immerwahr: The vast majority of our students come here to learn, and
are outraged by cheating. In our confidential surveys, very few
students say that they are aware of widespread cheating in their
classes. We have also been pleased by the fact that since we started
this new emphasis on academic integrity we have seen a steady decline in
observed cheating. Having said that, we do have cases where students
cheat. Usually the problem is caused by stress. Students get
overwhelmed by an illness, by poor time management, or get too caught up
in the many distractions that college life offers. A stressed-out
student may get sloppy with sources, accidentally use materials from a
book or from the Internet without proper citations, may be tempted to
purchase a term paper from the Internet, or try to copy answers from
another student's test. Unfortunately, some students come from high
school cultures where cheating is widespread, and other students just
never learn how to correctly document sources.

Fresh@News: Isn't cheating in school an age old problem? Why so much
concern about academic integrity now?

Dr. Immerwahr: Part of the problem is brought on by the new
technologies. We like our students to use the Internet in their
research, but often this means that they download materials without
noting the source. Then the things they downloaded can get mixed up
with their own notes until even they don't know what is theirs and what
isn't. Of course, the Internet also provides opportunities for
students who are deliberately trying to cheat, since there are now a
number of vendors who sell term papers. Interestingly, the Internet has
also made it easier for professors to detect cheating, since there are
now powerful search engines that help professors find the source of
suspicious materials.
Another problem has to do with the growing reliance at Villanova on
team projects. What we are hearing from employers is that students need
to learn team-work skills, and many of our courses now emphasize team
projects. These projects are excellent, but also sometimes students do
not distinguish between inappropriate and appropriate collaboration.

Fresh@News: Does Villanova have education efforts to help students
learn what is cheating and what is not.

Dr. Immerwahr: Our code of academic integrity is reprinted in the
student handbook. More to the point, most of the Core Humanities
Instructors spend time on this topic with their first year students. We
have also discussed this topic a great deal with our faculty members,
and many of them spend time in their classes discussing both the
importance of working honestly and also in teaching students the correct
ways to do research.

Fresh@News: What happens to students who are caught cheating on their
work?

Dr. Immerwahr: This is serious business. Typically the professor
confronts the student and discusses the problem. The professor then
gives the student a penalty grade, which would typically be an F for the
course (or perhaps only for the assignment). The violation will also go
on the student's record (but will be removed at graduation), and the
student's Dean will also work with the student to help him or her
understand the meaning of academic integrity. A second academic
integrity violation usually results in the student being expelled from
Villanova, with the reason for the expulsion noted on the transcript. We
have had very few such expulsions (usually someone with one violation is
very careful from then on), but it is a really sad thing when it does
happen.

Fresh@news: What happens if a student feels that he or she is unjustly
accused of violating the code of academic integrity?

Dr. Immerwahr: We set up an appeal panel, and the case is reviewed by a
group of students and faculty members who are members of our academic
integrity board. The appeal panels take the cases very seriously and
form their own judgment. Sometimes the student is vindicated, in other
cases the faculty member's judgment is upheld. We have very few appeals,
but they are always conducted in a careful and thoughtful manner.

Fresh@News: Does Villanova have an Honor Code?

Dr. Immerwahr: We do not yet have an Honor Code, but many of us want to
see Villanova develop such a system in the future. One part of that
would be a strong student Honor Society that took responsibility for
orienting students into Villanova's traditions of academic integrity.
Honor Code schools usually have some sort of pledge where new students
formally swear to uphold the Code. In schools that have an Honor Code,
some examinations are unproctored, and there is often a requirement that
students must take some action if they are aware of other students who
are violating the code. Several Villanova students attended a
conference on academic integrity at the University of Pennsylvania and
have become energized by this problem, and two other students attended a
five-day workshop on student ethics at West Point. I understand that
several students are working together to form an official student group
this spring, and I hope they will work with us toward the eventual
formation of a Villanova Honor Code. Villanova is also working closely
with the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University (see
http://www.academicintegrity.org/). There is a growing interest in this
topic around the country and we are learning a great deal from other
schools as well. One of the things we have learned from other schools
is that it is a big mistake to implement an Honor Code prematurely.
Perhaps we will have one in place by the time the class of 2004
graduates.

Fresh@News: What advice do you have for parents?

Dr. Immerwahr: One of the most helpful things that parents can do is to
stress learning rather than grades. Rather than asking a student "What
grade did you get?" I think parents should ask, "Did you learn a lot in
that course?" Obviously grades are important, but they are only a
symptom of something even more important, which is what students
actually learn. If the pressure on students is only for grades, that
may further encourage them to take the kind of shortcuts that can lead
to real trouble. Parents should also encourage their students not to
get so overwhelmed and busy that they don't have time to do their work
honestly. And, of course, parents should always communicate the
importance of honest and ethical behavior in academics as well as in
other areas of life.

Fresh@News: Is it true, Dr. Immerwahr, that you also edit Fresh@News.

Dr. Immerwahr: I do, and it is something I really enjoy. I've learned
a lot about the University from my conversations with the people I've
interviewed, and I've had some nice feedback from our subscribers.

Fresh@News: So does that mean that you are talking to yourself right
now?

Dr. Immerwahr: Thanks for asking. Although I am currently in an
administrative position, my home is in the Philosophy Department. Many
of us in the Philosophy Department talk to ourselves, so this is nothing
new.

--
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