The Baruch College Faculty Handbook

Academic Honesty (draft statement)

Last updated on 1/17/2003

A Draft Statement on Academic Honesty

Dr. Paul Arpaia, Director,
Bernard L. Schwartz Communication Institute

Alison Lovell, CUNY Writing Fellow

One of the most important aspects of a college education is the reinforcement and development of ethical behavior. It is important to understand that each student will come and leave Baruch with his/her own individual sense of whats right and wrong. What we can do is help students understand what is expected of them, create an environment that encourages them to act ethically and perhaps most importantly lead them to discover what they can and should expect of themselves.

Unfortunately, more often than not, when colleges address the issue of academic honesty, ethical behavior is defined in negative terms: students are told what they cannot do and are asked to familiarize themselves with the disciplinary procedures and punishments. This approach forces faculty to become enforcers and places students in the position of potential criminals forced out of fear of punishment to act in accordance with the law.

While sanctions and vigilance are important and necessary, as faculty, we can also take a positive approach and consider how academic honesty fits into the pedagogical approaches we use and how ethical behavior shapes the way professionals communicate in our disciplines. We can reinforce ethical behavior among our students in a variety of formal and informal ways. We can explain clearly why we act ethically as scholars, pointing out for instance, how our discipline could not exist without a strong individual and collective commitment to academic honesty. We can discuss what is accepted and whats not in our discipline, keeping in mind that ethics are situational. Whats accepted in one discipline may not be accepted in another, just as whats accepted in one culture may not be acceptable in another. In this way, students can understand the parameters within which they are expected to operate and act accordingly. It can be helpful to have a positive statement of ethical conduct in the syllabus that does more than refer students to the College Bulletin. Since students generally live up to the expectations we set for them and since we can never be sure to discover and punish all transgressions, we might try empowering students to monitor themselves. For instance, students can be asked to sign a statement at the bottom of each assignment and exam that they acted ethically. The point here is to reinforce the message that ethics are ultimately something that only the individual can attest to; its not a matter of getting caught, pulling the wool over the professors eyes or keeping within the gray areas of the law. It might also help to admit to students that the tendency to plagiarize is greater today, given the cut and paste function in word processing and the easy access to material on the Internet. Students can be shown, too, that careless note-taking or a lack of understanding of a text can lead to plagiarism, even if the intent is absent.

It is also important to inform students in a positive way about how to conduct research and to use sources appropriately. We can foster student awareness of the reasons we cite the work of others. Through the types of assignments we assign, we can show them how the ability to cite others and to know how our own ideas fit into the vast array of ideas of others is an essential part of being able to communicate effectively in a discipline. For, learning is not simply a matter of acquisition or passive absorption; instead, it may be likened to entering a dialogue with other minds, through questioning, discussion, and thought. If students become active participants in this dialogue and are asked to build competence, then plagiarizing will lose its appeal. Students who experience the benefits of academic honesty will be less likely to cheat in their studies.

The Bernard L. Schwartz Communication Institute will be holding a series of faculty seminars on the pedagogical aspects of academic honesty. The members of the Institutes Business Advisory Council feel very strongly about ethics as a precondition to good communication and have expressed their willingness to talk to students about the importance of developing a personal code of ethics and the importance of ones reputation as an ethical person in the business world. Should you like to have a member of the Institutes Business Advisory Council speak to your students, please contact the Institute. There are other resources available on campus. The Baruch College library has available a web-resource which can be found at How to Use the Library to Write Better Papers and to Avoid Plagiarism.The Colleges writing handbook, Keys for Writing, also contains useful information for students and faculty.

Brief Bibliography

Decoo, Wilfried. Crisis on Campus: Confronting Academic Misconduct (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002). Very useful, up to date and with a good bibliography for the sciences. Explores plagiarism in academic disciplines by professionals as well as students.

Harris, Robert A. The Plagiarism Handbook (Los Angeles, CA: Pyrczak Publishing, 2001). A practical guide geared mostly for instructors; includes suggestions for assignments and other teaching resources.

Mallon, Thomas. Stolen Words (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1989). New Afterward, 2001. A well-known book on plagiarism, broad historical background, relevant mostly for literary disciplines