Academic Integrity: A Primer

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Defining academic integrity may seem obvious to any academic scholar, however expectations differ, sometimes drastically, across disciplines, and these varying expectations can be very difficult for novice learners, such as students, to grasp (Blum, 2009; Lang, 2015). Such ambiguities cut to the core of our responsibilities as educators beyond mere code enforcement. It is a sad fact that all students are not educated equally, and some of them may never have thought much about academic integrity before arriving in your classroom. Due to this variance in disciplinary expectations and student experience, instructors must:

  • Know their university and departmental definitions of academic dishonesty,
  • Clearly define academic dishonesty for their students in their classes, and
  • Consistently implement proactive and preventive strategies for academic integrity in the classroom.

In this article, we provide an overview of the definitions and types of academic integrity and academic dishonesty per the University of North Texas’s Academic Integrity Policy.

Academic Integrity Defined

Academic integrity refers to the moral principles and ethical practices that guide rigorous research and scholarship. The honest and responsible pursuit of scholarship is essential to academic culture, because the information or data produced is expected to be truthful, accurate, and reliable. The reputation of an educational institution, and public perception of the student excellence that it trains, depend upon the highest standards of academic inquiry and achievement.

Academic integrity is ideally characterized by “best practices” such as:

  • Completing academic assignments or exams per the highest standards of honesty and scholarly excellence;
  • Integrating truthful, accurate, and reliable research information or data into papers or academic projects;
  • Responsibly incorporating and acknowledging referenced sources of information to avoid plagiarism or negligent misattribution;
  • Producing original scholarship of the highest quality using the best information available.

UNT defines academic integrity as:

Academic integrity emanates from a culture that embraces the core values of trust and honesty necessary for full learning to occur. As a student-centered public research university, the University of North Texas promotes the integrity of the learning process by establishing and enforcing academic standards. Academic dishonesty breaches the mutual trust necessary in an academic environment and undermines all scholarship. The Student Standards of Academic Integrity are based on educational principles and procedures that protect the rights of all participants in the educational process and validate the legitimacy of degrees awarded by the University. (UNT Policy 18.1.16)

Acts of Academic Dishonesty Defined

More often, academic integrity also refers to the avoidance of cheating, plagiarism, or fraudulence as practices of academic dishonesty. Per the UNT Student Standards of Academic Integrity, categories of academic dishonesty include: cheating, plagiarism, forgery, fabrication, facilitating academic dishonesty, and sabotage. UNT defines each of these incidences accordingly:

  • Cheating is intentionally using or attempting to use unauthorized materials, information, or study aids in any academic exercise. The term academic exercise includes all forms of work submitted for credit or hours. This also includes “dual submission of a paper or project, or re-submission of a paper or project to a different class without express permission from the instructor.” Finally, UNT includes “any other act designed to give a student an unfair advantage on an academic assignment” as cheating. (UNT Policy 18.1.16)
  • Plagiarism is the deliberate adoption or reproduction of ideas, words or statements of another person as one's own without explicit acknowledgement or citation. However, the adoption or reproduction of the ideas or words of another person as one's own without complete and correct acknowledgement, often the result of a misunderstanding or citational misattribution (defined as “negligent” per the UNT Academic Integrity Policy), can be considered plagiarism.
  • Fabrication is the intentional and unauthorized falsification or invention of any information or citation in an academic exercise.
  • Forgery is altering a score, grade or official academic university record or forging the signature of an instructor or other student.
  • Facilitating academic dishonesty as intentionally or knowingly helping or attempting to help another to violate a provision of the institutional code of academic integrity.
  • Sabotage as acting to prevent others from completing their work or willfully disrupting the academic work of others.

Although UNT policies create seemingly “black or white” definitional parameters for punitive purposes, there can be a lot of “grey” ambiguity or uncertainty when it comes to application to real students and actual cases.

Additional Acts of Plagiarism

While not explicitly defined in the UNT Academic Integrity Policy, the following acts of plagiarism are an important addition to an academic integrity vocabulary:

  • Self-plagiarism - content from a prior project and passing it off as a new work.
  • Patch-writing plagiarism - slightly rearranged words or phrases directly copied from a source text with minimal changes.
  • Team plagiarism - shared work on an assignment required to be individually completed for credit.

Self-plagiarism, patch-writing plagiarism, or team plagiarism are considered academic dishonesty by some schools and departments, but the standards and guidelines can vary across different disciplines or fields of study. Be sure you are clear on your department guidelines for students and reinforce your availability to preemptively discuss clarifications during class, office hours, and/or email as student questions arise.

References

Blum, S. D. (2009). Academic Integrity and Student Plagiarism: A Question of Education, Not Ethics. The Chronicle of Higher Education: Commentary. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/article/academic-integritystudent/32323

Center for Learning Experimentation, Application, and Research. (2016). Teaching Resources for Engaged Educators [online training modules]. Denton, TX: University of North Texas.

Lang, J. (2015, May 4). Cheating Inadvertently. The Chronicle of Higher Education: Advice. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/article/Cheating-Inadvertently/229883/

University of North Texas. (2009). Student standards of academic integrity policy 18.1.16. Retrieved from https://policy.unt.edu/policy/06-003