[Fresh] Academic Integrity Interview

Kelly Donio (kelly.donio@villanova.edu)
Thu, 03 Nov 2005 15:53:58 -0500

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 of 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 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 an electronic tutorial that we ask students to work through as part
of their Core Humanities Class, and it really gives them an overview of
our expectations in this area. 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; in some cases the
professor may prefer to contact the student by e-mail. If the professor
is still convinced that there was some inappropriate behavior, 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 is not on the studentís transcript, but we do keep a copy of
the records (which will be destroyed 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. Villanova is working closely with the Center for
Academic Integrity at Duke University (see
http://www.academicintegrity.org/) and we have learned a great deal
about this topic from them. 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 this class of freshmen 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.

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