Spotlight: University at Buffalo – Can Policy Change Culture?
In August 2019, the University at Buffalo (UB) rolled out new academic integrity policies and procedures for both undergraduate and graduate students. Undertaken in an effort to improve how we handled cases, the larger impetus was to begin a culture change around how students think about academic integrity. Will it work? With one semester under our belts, it may be too early to tell, but here are three highlights that I think are helping to move the needle.
At UB, the Office of Academic Integrity is housed in Academic Affairs and as the director, I report directly to the Vice Provost. This structure provided the necessary clout as I reached out to schools and units across our multifaceted university. Because deans and directors were getting the message “from the top” that academic integrity was an institutional priority, they were inclined to give me time at faculty meetings to discuss the upcoming policy changes. More often than not, these conversations also felt like an opportunity to (re)inspire instructors about the requisite value of integrity in the academic enterprise and their role in upholding it.
Centralization of Process and Support
Our past policy adjudicated academic integrity cases through departments, so students would be sanctioned by instructors and then could appeal to the chair, to the dean, and ultimately to the Vice Provost level. Now students can only appeal to the Office of Academic Integrity.
Additionally, records had largely been kept within departments, so a student could be behaving dishonestly in both English and Computer Science, but neither unit would know about the other. With a centralized office through which all reports now come, we are able to hold students accountable across the entire academic spectrum and sanction more appropriately for repeat offenses. This centralization of process and expertise allows for more consistency in enforcement across the university and helps faculty feel supported by the administration in their efforts, thus increasing their compliance with the policy.
Education has to be part of a culture change, and one prime opportunity for education is after an infraction occurs. The new UB policy allows undergraduate students with first-time non-egregious offenses to undergo an educational remediation process and clear their record. The remediation is a three-module online course designed to provide both direct instruction on academic integrity and ample reflection. The process includes pre and post-meetings with our office to discuss what triggered the cheating, how they can avoid similar behaviors in the future, and the role of integrity in their intended profession. Our early data show that students find these meetings valuable as it forces them to confront the many repercussions of their actions, providing some evidence that our culture is changing one student at a time. (We will be presenting on this topic at the upcoming ICAI conference in Portland!)
So can our new policy affect culture change? UB is a comprehensive state university with a combined population of 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students across thirteen different schools. Culture change is no easy task. But with targeted and supported university-wide efforts, I’m feeling optimistic.
Tell us how you are changing your culture of integrity by commenting below!