Week 5: VT Graduate Honor System: Who is responsible for maintaining academic integrity?

Overall, I feel like the current Graduate Honor System is a good system. In fact, maintaining academic ethics and integrity in a university system is critical and imperative to uphold the academic integrity of the University, train, and instill a clear value system for students to follow; and to “promote honesty and ethical behavior in all academic pursuits,” based on fairness, honesty and the respect to the intellectual efforts of oneself and others. However, as Virginia Tech seeks to introduce and incorporate new teaching methods and other blended learning approaches, I wonder if the current Graduate Honor System is well-suited for unknowns, but emerging ethical challenges and dilemmas associated with virtual learning.

I think a lot could be said about virtual learning, new challenges, and the current Graduate Honor System. But, I want to focus my writing on – who reports who, and why? To begin with, I would note that the current system is just fine as it is. However, since I first got admitted to Virginia Tech, I have always wondered how the GHS process works. It is good that GHS offers opportunities for students to have a fair process if accused of any academic infractions and/or violations.

The question of who reports who and why is a fascination one for me. But the current seems like a “black hole” process with some unknowns. Whether justified or not, students are always on the receiving end. Some of the unknowns that may need some clarity are as follows:

  1. When violations are being investigated, do the Investigative Board, in addition to reviewing the referred case, conduct a comprehensive review of all submitted course assignments to make sure that the referred case was not a targeted bias or another incident of unconscious bias by faculty or instructor?
  2. Second, how are incidents of intellectual dishonesty by faculty handled in this process? For example, if there is evidence that a student is being targeted by a particular faculty or GTA or instructor. What happens next?
  3. Third, Open data – make available data on the total of cases reported each semester by departments, programs, summaries of findings, etc. I think it may be good for the university to make all data for all reported violations and academic infractions public. Confidential data do not have to be made public. Open data may help to give deeper insights into the review and analysis of incidents of academic infractions. More importantly, will help to find new ways to discuss these issues.
  4. Fourth, my opinion is that many of the reported cases or real violations relating to plagiarism and academic falsification are due to ignorance (unintended), mostly related to poor academic writing skills by students. As such, I think academic writing is an area that needs greater emphasis to develop students academically and professionally.

I think the current approach to maintaining ethical behavior and academic integrity seems lacking in term of setting developmental goals that are student-oriented. I think the current approach is “void” of any proactive risk mitigation perspectives or measures, and it is over-reliance on placing the burden of proof on students. Until I started studying at the Doctoral level, I was hardly aware of what academic integrity really means.

In addition, I believe both students and the university have a shared responsibility to support ethical behavior and academic integrity. First, the University must approach the issue of ethical behavior and academic integrity with an intention to remedy, train, and develop students and sometimes, faculty. Personally, if students learn and master effective academic writing and research techniques early in their studies, I think incidents of plagiarism and academic falsification (category 1) will be reduced.