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Addressing Academic Integrity Concerns

One of the most difficult aspects of maintaining academic integrity in the classroom is deciding what to do once you believe that academic misconduct has occurred. This typically involves having a conversation with the student(s) that you suspect engaged in this prohibited behavior, which usually produces anxiety on the part of both the student and the faculty member.

The following information is designed to help you in confronting a student whom you believe may have committed academic misconduct. For answers to common questions, please review our Faculty FAQ.

You must have some degree of command over the materials available. Good questions to ask yourself at this stage are:

  • What do I believe happened here?
  • What evidence do I have that supports that belief?
  • Is there another plausible explanation?
  • Is there anyone else who has information about this incident that would be helpful?
  • Was this type of situation covered in my expectations as I articulated them during the opening class?
  • Is it covered on the syllabus?
  • Do I have copies of everything I need in order to explain this to the student?

Meeting with the Student

The meeting should occur in a private and confidential place such as your office. We recommend that you meet with the student outside of office hours to prevent disruptions.  It is not necessary to have another faculty or staff member with you as a witness.

The most important element to keep in mind during the meeting is that it is behavior that is at issue, not whether or not the student is a good or bad person. Questions that focus on behaviors are less likely to make people defensive. This will increase the chances of a successful resolution at the conclusion of this meeting. Often, the first few sentences set the tone for the remainder of the meeting.

There are a number of ways to arrange to meet with students in these situations. Here are a few recommendations:

  • return a copy of the exam in question to the student with no grade but with a note to set up a meeting to discuss the test
  • approach the student(s) after class when they are not in the presence of their classmates and schedule a convenient time to meet
  • send the student an e-mail message that you need to meet to discuss the assignment, exam, or project

Avoid addressing your specific concerns with the student while setting up the meeting.  If pressed, respond simply that you have some questions about the assignment that you need to discuss with the student. You are not obligated to outline your concerns or suspicions on the phone or in the hallway. Do not ask a friend of the student to contact the student and have them call you.

If you have attempted to contact the student(s) without success, please submit all information and supporting materials to the Office of Student Conduct via the Report of an Academic Integrity Violation (RAIV) online form.

The following is a list of suggested openings for your meeting with the student:

  • I have asked you to meet with me to talk about your last test. It was reported to me by the proctor that he/she witnessed what might have been inappropriate behavior on your part during the test. The proctor indicates he/she saw the following […] Can you tell me anything about this? Can you show me how you solved this problem on the exam?
  • During the grading process, I noticed striking similarities between your paper (or test) and that of another student. Can you offer any explanation for these similarities?
  • I have reviewed your paper and I was struck by the differences between this and your previous work. Can you tell me about your preparations and production of this particular paper? How did you locate the sources listed here? Did you use any other sources or discuss your topic with others that might have given you ideas on how to proceed?

Sometimes the honest and direct approach is most effective:

  • I am at a loss as to how to explain the identical answers on these two papers, and the possibility of academic misconduct has occurred to me. Is this work your own?
  • As a part of grading your paper I checked the sources you cited, as well as some that I am aware of, and I was disturbed to find whole sections of another author’s work, reprinted in your paper, without proper citation. Did you use this source? Do you understand my expectations for citation of others’ work?
  • I have taught this class for a number of semesters and I recognized this topic as one turned in to me last year/semester. Your paper does not appear to be your original work. Can you explain this to me?

The types of follow-up questions you use can elicit more or less information.  The one element that all the questions have in common is that they focus on behaviors.

  • open-ended questions (those that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no”) are often good to begin with: How did you prepare for this exam? What did you do after receiving the exam? How do you explain the similarities in these two papers?
  • closed-ended questions, specifically seeking a “yes” or “no,” may be both necessary and important: Did you look at the other student’s paper during the test? Did you receive a copy of this paper from someone else?
  • directive statements are sometimes best used to get to the point: Please tell me where you found this source. Tell me how you solved this problem on the exam.

Once confronted, students will either admit their involvement or provide some explanation of the events. Some explanations will immediately resolve the problem while others will appear to be fabrications. It is a good idea to probe further in the latter case by asking for more detail. It is important to ask for explanations or detail without giving the student the answer you are seeking. Students who are reluctant to give you much information should be presented with open-ended questions.

If you are convinced after meeting with the student that they did not engage in academic misconduct, then you should not submit the RAIV as described above.  However, if you still feel (or if the student admits) that the student has engaged in academic misconduct, we strongly recommend that you report the case to the Office of Student Conduct.