Targeting Academic Misconduct

"A Matter of Honor," Duke Magazine, May-June 2001


A Matter of Honor Article Image

Looking to raise the profile of academic integrity issues on campus, a committee of faculty members, students, and administrators is trying to simplify and unify the university honor code and judicial processes.

Academic Integrity Council chair Judith Ruderman, vice provost for academic affairs, told a joint meeting of the Arts and Sciences Council and the Engineering Faculty Council in April that there is growing concern because national surveys show unacceptably high rates of cheating, plagiarism, and other misconduct. While Duke has not faced an academic scandal, Ruderman said the time is right to revise the honor code and campus judicial practices, to raise awareness among both faculty members and students, and to create a stronger campus climate for academic honesty.

The committee's recommendations include establishing a new "Community Standard," which would take the place of the university's three different honor-code documents; eliminating the requirement that all exams be proctored; making formal the common practice of faculty members informally handling certain allegations of misconduct; and allowing a wider range of sanctions for academic misconduct.

As part of the new honor code, the committee also proposes adding an obligation for students to report--anonymously--any incidents of misconduct they observe. Students now have no such obligation to report.

"We believe these recommendations will reduce cheating," Ruderman said. "It will do this by sharing responsibility and creating trust between faculty and students, by building a climate conducive to other changes, by taking a holistic approach to student behavior, and by not separating between what happens in the classroom from what happens outside of it."

The proposed new Community Standard reads:

"Duke University is a community of scholars and learners, committed to the principles of honesty, trustworthiness, fairness, and respect for others. Students share with faculty and staff the responsibility for promoting a climate of integrity. As citizens of this community, students are expected to adhere to these fundamental values at all times, in both their academic and non-academic endeavors.

"By signing this pledge, I affirm my commitment to uphold the values of the Duke University community:

"I will not lie, cheat, or steal in my academic endeavors, nor will I accept the actions of those who do.

"I will conduct myself responsibly and honorably in all my activities as a Duke student."

The Academic Integrity Committee wants the new single standard to become a prominent part of the campus, Ruderman said. It can be on tests, posted in classrooms, and discussed in residence halls. The committee believes a single standard is easier to understand and to incorporate into campus life.

Adding an obligation for students to report misconduct is a controversial step, Ruderman said, but to date students have supported it. "Students understand that it's not good enough just to say there's cheating in the classroom."

But there is an additional question of whether anonymous reports should be allowed. Some members of the Arts and Sciences Council raised concern about fairness, saying anonymous reporting could lead to unsubstantiated and undefendable charges.

The background for the discussion is an unease on campuses nationally with misconduct scandals that have arisen at the University of Virginia and elsewhere. At Duke, faculty and students studying the issue believe Duke is ahead of the national trends in addressing the issue, but a Duke-specific survey showed worrisome levels of misconduct.

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