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FAQ: Code of Academic Integrity

Is the Maryland Code of Academic Integrity an honor code?

Yes, if by "Honor Code" you mean that students are asked to sign and abide by an honor pledge; assume responsibility for educating their peers about the importance of academic integrity; and are given significant authority to resolve academic dishonesty allegations. However, in most departments, we do not have unproctored examinations or require students to report each other. It would be best to say that Maryland has a modified honor code governed by an all-student honor council.

Why has Maryland developed such a code?

Substantial research indicates that there is significantly less academic dishonesty at schools with honor systems, contrasted with similar schools without honor systems. A distinguishing factor at honor code schools appears to be peer involvement in setting and administering honor code standards—suggesting to the student body that academic integrity is a shared value, not an "us versus them" contest with faculty members.

Is there any evidence the Maryland Code of Academic Integrity has influenced student attitudes or behavior?

Yes. Rutgers University management professor Donald L. McCabe conducted a survey on academic integrity involving over 2,100 students at 21 campuses, including the University of Maryland. Professor McCabe found significantly less cheating at schools with traditional and modified honor codes, compared to comparable institutions without such codes. McCabe paid particular attention to the University of Maryland's modified honor code, and wrote that "the major finding of this . . . research was empirical confirmation of a relationship between modified honor codes and lower levels of student cheating, even at large campuses where student cheating is generally higher."

Maryland's Honor Code has also had a significant impact on the students who help administer it. About forty student leaders serve on our Honor Council. Their experience was summarized years ago by Honor Council Vice-Chair Mona Siddiqui, when she received the University Medal and delivered the student address at Commencement:

One of the most unique groups that this University has is a Student Honor Council . . . The Council is a tremendous learning experience. We learn about what we expect from ourselves and others. We learn about upholding certain standards when the consequences are potentially unfavorable. Words like integrity, honesty, and respect take on real meanings in daily activities.

How common is academic dishonesty at colleges across the country?

In one study, Donald L. McCabe surveyed the extent of self-reported cheating by 1,800 students at nine medium to large state universities. He found that 52% of the students admitted to copying from others on an examination; 38% admitted to some form of test cheating on three or more occasions. McCabe's research has important implications for ethics in business and the professions. It's reasonable to hypothesize that students who develop the habit of cheating in college may also see cheating as an effective strategy in their careers.

How common is academic dishonesty in high school?

Cheating in high school appears to be even more widespread than cheating in college. One survey of high-achieving students conducted by Who's Who Among American High School Students found that nearly 90% of the students said cheating was "common at their school; "76% said they had "cheated on tests;" 58% said "it would be easy to obtain test questions or answers."

Can students who cheated in high school be persuaded not to cheat in college?

Yes, but only if faculty members and student leaders work together to foster higher standards for academic integrity on campus. Professor McCabe made the following observation in an interview:

As many as 20 percent of college students will cheat no matter what we do. And as many as 20% will never cheat no matter what we do—perhaps due to religious convictions, or the fear of getting caught. We're fighting for that 60% in between. They come as freshmen and hear what we say about academic integrity and say, "Okay, I'm willing to wait to see what happens." If they watch upperclassmen not cheating they tend to go in that direction, but if they see widespread cheating, they'll probably join the cheaters.

What can faculty members say that might help students understand the importance of academic integrity?

Students need to know that complex societies depend on high levels of trust. One simple exercise it to invite students to glance at the classroom ceiling. They might then be reminded that thousands of pounds of steel and concrete are balanced directly above their heads. Everyone in the classroom—at the precise moment of the conversation—is dependent on the integrity of the people who designed and built the building.

Thoughtful comments concerning the role of trust and integrity in business were made by Alan Greenspan in a June, 1999 Harvard commencement address:

The true measure of a career is to be able to be content, even proud, that you succeeded through your own endeavors without leaving a trail of casualties in your wake. I cannot speak for others whose psyches I may not be able to comprehend, but, in my working life, I have found no greater satisfaction than achieving success through honest dealings and strict adherence to the view that for you to gain, those you deal with should gain as well. Human relations—be they personal or professional—should not be zero sum games.

And beyond the personal sense of satisfaction, having a reputation for fair dealing is a profoundly practical virtue. We call it "good will" in business and add it to our balance sheets.

Trust is at the root of any economic system based on mutually beneficial exchange. In virtually all transactions, we rely on the word of those with whom we do business. Were this not the case, exchange of goods and services could not take place on any reasonable scale. Our commercial codes and contract law presume that only a tiny fraction of contracts, at most, need be adjudicated. If a significant number of business people violated the trust upon which our interactions are based, our court system and our economy would be swamped into immobility.

What can faculty members do to reduce academic dishonesty?

Faculty members can help reduce academic dishonesty by discussing the importance of academic integrity in their classrooms and by inviting students to write and sign the University Honor Pledge. Additional instructions might be provided in the course syllabus, addressing issues like the scope of permissible collaboration on homework and laboratory assignments.

It's important not to create circumstances in which students are unduly tempted to cheat. Faculty members should arrange for effective proctoring, make sure examinations are secure, and (in larger classes) require identification of test takers.

Creative pedagogy also can discourage academic dishonesty. Plagiarism, for example, may be reduced if students are asked to discuss their papers in class and respond to questions from other students and the instructor.

What penalties are imposed for academic dishonesty at Maryland?

Strict penalties are necessary, so academic dishonesty is not trivialized. For example, the common practice at many colleges of simply awarding a failing grade for academic dishonesty is no deterrent to a student already in danger of failing the course.

The standard sanction for academic dishonesty at Maryland is the "XF" grade penalty, noted on the transcript as "failure due to academic dishonesty." Students may petition the Honor Council for removal of the "X" from the transcript one year after being found responsible for an offense if they successfully complete an academic integrity seminar.

How is "education" part of the academic integrity system at Maryland?

In the broadest sense, simply holding individuals accountable for their behavior has an educational value, both for them and the community as a whole. Beyond that, administrators and Honor Council members give dozens of classroom presentations each semester, reviewing and discussing University academic integrity policies. To arrange such a presentation, please click here.

Isn't it burdensome and time-consuming to report incidents of academic dishonesty?

A few cases are protracted. Most are not. Accused students often admit the offense and accept the XF grade penalty. If a hearing is necessary, it is conducted as an inquiry (not a trial) by a panel of students and faculty members. Questioning by lawyers is not permitted. Furthermore, a student "community advocate" is employed to assist faculty members in presenting appropriate evidence. The vast majority of cases going to hearing result in a finding of responsibility and imposition of the XF grade penalty.

Why have hearings at all?

Academic dishonesty is a serious offense. It isn't reasonable—legally or ethically—to impose strict penalties without providing appropriate due process. Furthermore, when hearings are held, the process of appearing before an honor review panel helps students understand the importance of academic integrity.

What about the threat of lawsuits?

The state has policies to represent and indemnify employees for litigation arising out of the performance of their duties. Furthermore, we know of no reported case in the country where a faculty member has been found liable for a good-faith report of student academic dishonesty—even if the student was later determined to be innocent of any wrongdoing. No court has overturned a finding under the University's Code of Academic Integrity, even though over 1,500 students have been held accountable under the Code—most with serious transcript notation penalties.

I reported a case, and the student wasn't punished. Why should I report another case?

No fairly administered judicial system will find against the accused in every case. At Maryland, given the severity of the XF transcript notation penalty, the Code of Academic Integrity, as adopted by the University Senate, requires "clear and convincing" evidence to support a charge. In close cases, students and faculty members on hearing panels will give the benefit of the doubt to the accused. Nonetheless, even the minority of students who "win" their cases regard a hearing as a serious and solemn event. Recidivism is extremely rare.

A finding that there was insufficient evidence to hold a student responsible for academic dishonesty is not a reflection against a referring faculty member. Most referring faculty members see "winning" or "losing" a particular case as secondary to upholding a process that has produced demonstrable results in promoting academic integrity on campus.

Is there any survey data about faculty experiences with the Code of Academic Integrity?

Yes. Referring faculty members receive satisfaction surveys by e-mail. Responses are kept on file in the Office of Student Conduct. A substantial majority of respondents (over 80%) express satisfaction in the areas addressed, including timeliness, conduct of the hearing, and outcome of the hearing.

Do academic integrity cases take a long time to resolve?

No. On average, in spite of a record number of referrals, cases are normally resolved in 45 days or less. Delays tend to occur when cases are referred at the very end of a semester and cannot be resolved until the parties return to campus.

How should I document an allegation of academic dishonesty?

Keep the original evidence and send copies (with a cover memorandum marked "confidential") to Andrea Goodwin at the Office of Student Conduct (2118 Mitchell Building, Campus). Do not impose a penalty or dismiss a student from class. Faculty members are encouraged to confer with accused students and to inform them the Honor Council will be conducting an appropriate inquiry. Concerned students, parents, or other parties should then be referred to the Honor Council administrator.

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