Updating the Academic Integrity Policy at Your Institution

Creating an effective and well-followed academic integrity policy at your institution does not have to be difficult, overly legalistic, or a chore to establish.  In the first post of a series on academic integrity policy, this details a process on how to establish the integrity values of your institution and a process to implement them with all stakeholders getting involved.

Step 1. Review your current academic integrity policy

Check for key descriptions of what is expected of students, faculty, and staff:

  1. Does it reflect your institution’s values?  Think about how and whether your policy embodies what your stakeholders feel is important to them.  For example, some institutions choose to implement an honor code. Is the honor code representative of the mission statement of your institution?  If so, is it being enforced fairly and effectively? If not, what would you change and why?
  2. How understandable is this policy?  Good policies are, clear, comprehensible, and predictable.  Is it overly legalistic to the point that it requires general counsel to regularly interpret it?  Does everyone at your institution know what to expect when an academic integrity issue comes up? Do students typically get lost in the process?  Can someone reading it for the first time know what they should be doing, or what will happen, after giving it a single good read without seeking help from someone who has worked with it before?
  3. What is working in your current policy?  What do faculty, staff, and students like about it?  And at that same time, what is not working? What do faculty, staff, and students often complain about in your policy?

Step 2. Gather your stakeholders

Now that you have a handle on your policy, it is time to take your findings to a decently sized, diverse group.  This should include faculty, administration, conduct officers, accessibility officers, and most importantly students.  Members of your student government are especially helpful, as they are likely to be engaged and interested in policymaking.

Set a time for at least an hour, possibly two, to get everyone in the same room.  The purpose of this meeting is to survey what your stakeholders like, what they do not like, consider any potential changes, and get their honest feedback.  

Step 3. Establish a writing committee

Once you have your feedback, now is the time to get to writing.  Your writing committee should continue to be as representative of your stakeholder groups as possible, but should be significantly smaller than your previous group.  Too many cooks in the kitchen, as the saying goes, and this can especially be the case for writing a policy. Two or three faculty members, an engaged student, a conduct officer, a representative of upper administration, and a lawyer or someone with policy-writing experience.

Be sure to set deadlines!  We all have been variously guilty of adding things to the “I will get to it later” pile and never getting to it.  A successful strategy can be to have everyone on the committee conduct their own individual research and create their own notes and then meet together for a concentrated writing session.  Project your draft on a screen and take turns at the keyboard editing policies and discussing them as you go. While this process can take several long sessions, it still ends up being less overall time than splitting up the work and constantly attempting to consolidate.  Or worse, having one person write everything with little feedback from the rest of the group!

Your current policy is a good place to start.  You may find that it may only need tweaks here and there, adding a more clear-cut process or better defining sanctions.  Other times, your group may decide it needs an overhaul and a fresh start. In either case, you are never starting completely from scratch.  Research and engage with other institutions (and ICAI!) on how they are doing their processes and consider asking their permission to use some of their ideas.

Step 4. Take back to stakeholders

Once your first pass is complete, it is time to take it back to your bigger group.  Do not expect unanimous approval and take criticism seriously with a look to amend. Take that feedback back for another pass with your writing team, and then present back to the group for a final, more informal feedback session.  While this feedback process can be onerous, it remains integral so no one is left surprised by the results or can claim to be left out of the loop.

Step 5. Implement

When you have everyone on board, now it is time to get it going!  Your first stop should be the legal department of your institution for final mark-ups and their final approval and to be sent up the line through upper administration and your Board of Trustees/Regents or similar.  

Once that is done, it is time to advertise.  One of the biggest roadblocks to success in a new policy is a lack of awareness of its existence and a misunderstanding of what it is and does.  You will especially want to earn faculty buy-in, which should have begun when you got feedback in your first big group. Speak to your faculty groups as much as possible to help encourage engagement and establish awareness of the new policy.  And students need to be aware of it, too, and not just the ones that get in trouble. Make it readily available and easily accessible on a public website and advertise how to find it.

Step 6. Follow up

No policy is ever perfect.  Be sure to keep tabs on the policy implementation and gather feedback over time.  As before, see what is working and what is not and consider them for another update.

In the next post of this series, we will discuss different possible academic integrity policies you can implement at your institution.  See you then!

About the Author
Christian Moriarty is a Professor of Ethics and Law and Academic Chair of the Applied Ethics Institute with the College of Policy, Ethics, & Legal Studies at St. Petersburg College. Professor Moriarty received his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Interdisciplinary Sciences at the University of South Florida, his Master’s degree in Bioethics from USF, his Juris Doctor from Stetson University College of Law, and is a licensed attorney with the Florida Bar. He teaches Applied Ethics, Medical Ethics, Business Ethics, Legal Ethics, Business Law, and Art Law. He researches and presents on such subjects as academic plagiarism, using humor and empathy in the classroom, and higher education law and ethics. Professor Moriarty also serves on the Executive Board of the International Center for Academic Integrity. All views presented are those of the author.