[Fresh] Academic Integrity Interview

Sue Ciccone (susan.ciccone@villanova.edu)
Tue, 13 Mar 2007 13:10:35 -0400

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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.

  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 instructors in the Augustine and Culture Seminar 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 ACS 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 student’s 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 un-proctored, 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.  For more about our academic integrity program go to: http://www.vpaa.villanova.edu/academicintegrity/

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