A conversation on Academic Integrity

A conversation on Academic Integrity

Ryan Murphy

Looking through the university’s news briefs last week, I came across one that read “Complete academic integrity tutorial by Oct. 1.” I thought back to last year when it was my turn to go through that series of videos and quizzes, and I said to myself, “I have an opinion there: long, boring and patronizing.”

Three words would hardly pass for an informed opinion, much less a column, so I decided to reach out to Michelle Mynlieff, the academic integrity director, for another perspective. I’m glad I did – she completely changed my perspective on the program.

What I didn’t realize (and what most of you might not, either) is that the tutorial is only a small part of a larger initiative that is really getting kicked off this year. Mynlieff explained its three objectives, and her enthusiasm was both genuine and contagious.

The first aim: standardization. “There was discontent with how this was being handled before,” Mynlieff said. If there was ever a question of cheating, “in the past, the faculty themselves were responsible for investigating,” and the deans of each college responsible for determining sanctions. Unsurprisingly, this process resulted in an array of sanctions for similar offenses. At a university that likes to talk about justice as much as this one, that does seem out of place.

Now, the faculty members on the Academic Integrity Board will be responsible for investigation. “We have already developed sanctioning guidelines that would be used in all cases so that someone who does an offense in one college wouldn’t have a different sanction than someone in another college,” Mynlieff pointed out. These guidelines will be followed by the hearing boards, which will be made up of two faculty members, two students and a dean’s representative from the college of the student in question.

The program’s second goal is “to make it easier for faculty, students, whomever, to report a case of misconduct.” In the past, a professor might have felt it was not worth the trouble to investigate a possible case of dishonesty, or a student who observed a peer cheating might have felt uncomfortable speaking up. Mynlieff described the solution: “Now, literally they have to fill out a form, and it’s my problem, not theirs.” The form is available on the Academic Integrity website, and it gives the reporting student the option to remain anonymous.

Lastly, Mynlieff and her colleagues hope to “promote an environment where academic integrity really matters.” This will mean educating faculty on how to remove opportunities for students to cheat and reminding students that one cannot live dishonestly indefinitely. They intend to bring in two speakers each year; the first one, James Lang, the author of “Cheating Lessons,” will come in November,.

This last goal is the one I find most exciting. As the program grows and finds its footing, I look forward to seeing how they engage students in conversations about honesty and integrity – neither are confined to the classroom; they are necessary for success in the professional and personal spheres.

All these reforms seem like common sense to me, and it’s almost surprising that they haven’t been instituted until now. That being said, my conversation with Mynlieff left me with the impression that the program is in the capable hands of someone eager to make a difference.

“I really like to think that I’m not like the police here, that I’m actually fostering something that’s bigger than that, that has a positive effect on the campus,” she said. I heartily agree.