Confronting Academic Misconduct
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?
Please download and print the Report of an Academic Integrity Violation (RAIV). Read the instructions carefully and fill out the first page of the form. It will also be helpful for you to have read the second page of the form prior to your initial meeting with the student. Although the form has instructions to be followed when completing it, the following points should be emphasized:
- Although faculty are asked to list the charge involved, the charge may be changed when received and reviewed by the Office of Student Conduct. In most cases, the charge is only changed when there is a more appropriate charge that more effectively matches the behavior in question.
- The narrative submitted should be as complete as possible, addressing all of the objective and relevant reasons why you suspect that academic misconduct has occurred. Where appropriate, please attach copies of the syllabus, test papers, assignments, or other documents relevant to the charges involved. Professors submitting plagiarism cases should provide portions of the material from which the student is alleged to have plagiarized.
- Where appropriate, provide additional narratives completed by co-instructors or Teaching Assistants. These individuals may be called as factual witnesses should a hearing take place.
- Sanctioning is a highly individualized decision. Faculty members may impose sanctions up to and including no credit for the class. For more information on available sanctions, please refer to section 9 of the Code of Student Conduct. Cases that should be considered for more serious sanctions would require further review through an academic integrity hearing, which could result in suspension or expulsion should the situation call for such sanctions. Sanctions will differ depending on the severity of misconduct, how the class was informed of expectations regarding academic integrity, and the specific circumstances surrounding the incident.
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 his/her test or paper
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 without success, please submit the completed RAIV and supporting materials to the Office of Student Conduct.
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 a 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.
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 on 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 he/she 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 move to STEP 5 and submit the RAIV.
The student should be provided with a separate copy of the RAIV form that includes both pages. Next, lead the student through the first page which provides information about the student, the alleged charge, and the recommended sanction.
The second page of the RAIV is for the student and should be reviewed carefully by the student before any action is taken. Students should be encouraged to take the necessary time to review their options prior to deciding whether to sign the form.
While reviewing the form with the student, please keep the following important points in mind:
- If a student signs the form taking responsibility (Under Step 5), four things happen: 1) the student has accepted full responsibility for the behavior described; 2) the student has accepted the sanction that has been recommended; 3) the student has waived his or her right to appeal; and 4) the student will be placed on Academic Integrity Probation
- Students have up to 2 days to consider their options. Under the Student Discipline Procedures, students can request up to two days to think about whether they want to sign the form. At the end of the two days, the RAIV should be submitted along with all supporting materials to the Office of Student Conduct – regardless of whether the student has signed the form.
- Students who choose a hearing should receive an Incomplete (INC) in the course. Faculty should issue the student an Incomplete in the course rather than assign a final grade pending the outcome of the hearing. This step prevents unnecessary confusion.
- Students cannot withdraw from the course once an allegation has been submitted. Once the RAIV has been submitted, a student is forbidden from withdrawing from the course. Students should be reminded of this fact. This important step maintains the integrity of the process and helps students to stay engaged in the course while the hearing process continues.
The final step is to submit the completed form and supporting materials to the Office of Student Conduct for review. An advisor from the office will contact you regarding the outcome in the case or advise you on the steps that will be necessary when preparing for a hearing.
Additional Questions: For additional questions and answers, please review the Faculty FAQ or call our office at 919-515-2963.