How do faculty handle gray areas in Penn’s policy?

Penn’s Code of Academic Integrity is fairly flexible and gives professors a great deal of leeway in dealing with infractions of the Code of Academic Integrity. As a result, professors are sometimes unsure about what they ought to do. Here are some questions that you might have:

Should I report violations of Penn’s Code of Academic Integrity to the Office of Student Conduct?

  • Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations:
    There are three main reasons why I believe faculty members should report academic violations to the Office of Student Conduct. First, from a practical point of view, we are not always in a good position to determine whether a student cheated and rarely know anything about the student’s background or possible mitigating circumstances. Especially if the case requires some investigation, we are simply too busy to be able to assess the matter thoroughly and fairly. Second, I have learned, painfully, that cases of cheating are usually not isolated. If a student cheats on one assignment, the chances are good that he or she has cheated, or will cheat, on another. By the same token, if one person is cheating in a class, there is good reason to believe that someone else is cheating too. Faculty members do not have the perspective necessary to appreciate the ramifications of a single case of cheating. Only a central office monitoring all such complaints systematically can tell when there is a serious problem in a class or when there are students who cheat in more than one class. Third, I believe academic integrity is indispensable to everything we do at a research university, and the consequences for cheating should not be ad hoc or random—which is, inevitably, the result if faculty members attempt to deal with such cases on their own.
  • Associate Professor of Sociology:
    In my experience, the Office of Student Conduct has been extremely helpful in providing guidance on how best to proceed with a case of academic dishonesty, whether or not you decide to hand the matter over to them. They have a lot of experience with the range of problems faculty come across and can help you think through the most appropriate way to handle the issue at hand, so don’t hesitate to consult with the Office if you’re not sure how to proceed. Letting a student know that you have communicated with the Office of Student Conduct certainly conveys just how crucially important the faculty considers matters of fairness and honesty, even if you decide not to submit a formal report of a violation.
    I am familiar with a case of egregious misconduct — extensive plagiarism of research presented as a thesis project — that I felt the Office handled extremely well. First, they used software that revealed precisely what text had been taken directly from a published source, verifying the suspicion of faculty advisors. Second, they took care of meeting with the student, consulting with the faculty involved, and determining the severity of the repercussions, which, appropriately, went beyond the responses available to an individual faculty member.
  • Professor of Economics:
    The main type of violation of Academic Integrity that I have seen in our department is cheating on exams. In the interest of fairness to the student, my inclination is to report all reasonably well documented instances of cheating so that they can be thoroughly investigated by people who have expertise in this area.
    Reporting the cheating raises the punishment for cheating, which hopefully provides some deterrent to potential cheaters. Interactions with OSC may lead to positive behavioral changes in people with a cheating past.

Should I report even relatively minor infractions?

  • Professor of Engineering
    This is a judgment call. Most minor infractions can typically be dealt with through a warning, but instances of, say, repeat offenses that ignore several successive warnings should, even if minor, ultimately have consequences. A referral to OSC provides such an option, and avoids the standard pitfall of having to determine what is commensurate with the severity of the offense.
  • Professor of Economics
    I take minor infractions seriously, because they can be indicative of a larger cheating problem. My tendency, however, is to confront students directly with minor infractions but to not necessarily take actions to launch a full OSC investigation. It is of course a matter of judgment what constitutes a minor or major infraction.

What happens to me if I report a violation to the Office of Student Conduct?

  • Professor of History of Art
    Professors often hesitate to start a case because they fear the continual begging: `do not wreck my career’ and `I am not a cheater’ from worried students, innocent and guilty alike. It can come close to stalking. It makes faculty upset, sad, worried, torn — all the things that make one hold back from starting a fuss in the first place.
    Of almost equal concern is the fear that somehow the student (or their family) will complain to deans, department chairs or that the professor will be liable in a lawsuit — just for accusing a student of cheating. Because the OSC becomes the legally responsible entity, any attempt to accuse the faculty member of misconduct, in any forum, is over before it happens.
    In fact, once OSC starts investigations, it is out of the professor’s hands to stop the investigation. If people have not gone to OSC before they do not know that it is a treasure beyond price to be able to say to the student gently `it is now out of my hands’. Indeed, I make sure — delicately — my students pick up this fact. It has a deterrent effect on its own, is my impression.

How does involving the Office of Student Conduct affect my ability to assign the student a grade?

  • Professor of History of Art:
    After my experiences with OSC-equivalents at other
    institutions, I was amazed the first time I worked with OSC, that if OSC determines a sanctionable offense has been committed, it is up to the instructor to determine the grade the student will get or whether additional or different work will be required. OSC is not involved with grading.
    Faculty may mistrust the idea of turning students over to academic bureaucracy, either because they fear it may be lenient on “pampered” Penn students or because the punishment will be overly harsh. However, faculty maintain the power to shape outcomes to the extent that the student’s grade remains within the faculty’s sole purview. The instructor is not cut out of the loop.

Pennbook Statement on Faculty Authority to Assign Grades and Academic Integrity

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