Integrity Matters: Welcome to the new ICAI Blog

Topics: Blog, integrity

Thank you for visiting the brand new International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) blog – Integrity Matters! I’m excited you’re here because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this – and by “this”, I don’t mean just this blog, I mean the challenge of stimulating an international conversation about academic integrity – the partial intent of this blog. For the 16 years I’ve been involved with ICAI, the silver bullet method for inspiring educators, administrators and institutions writ large (and to branch out even more idealistically, parents and employers) to care about integrity as alluded me. The only discernment I’ve made is that it is difficult because people lack the motivation to care. But why?

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, human beings are motivated by “basic needs” first and then, when those basic needs are met, they can move on to higher order motivations like belonging, esteem and self-actualization. At those two very basic needs levels – physiological and safety – not only does integrity perhaps *not* matter, but adhering to integrity may impinge on one’s ability to realize those needs.

Take, for example, the common moral dilemma outlined to young people – a man has no money and a sick wife and hungry baby. Is he justified in stealing a loaf of bread? Most people would respond with a resounding “yes!”. Although they may not identify it as such, they are resonating with this visceral notion that the safety and physiological needs of the man and his family outweigh the immorality of stealing. In the moral dilemma of self (feeding the family) vs. community (society’s morals and laws), the self will win if basic needs are not met.

If we take this example and extend it to within our educational institutions, we see that the behaviors that threaten Maslow’s basic hierarchy of needs – physiology and safety – are much more likely to garner the attention of those with the money and power to make changes. Put another way, if the physical body is the object of the threat of the behavior, human beings are programmed to pay more attention than if our esteem or self-actualization are threatened. And, if we can see those harms in the short-term, we are more likely to act than if the behaviors have a cumulative long-term effect. Think of the disparate attention paid by government officials to the economy (which can cause short term physiological and safety harms) versus to global warming (which can cause short term harms, but is much more dangerous in its cumulative long-term impacts).

Let’s turn this eye of analysis to the topic at hand. When a high school student cheats on one homework assignment or a college senior cheats on a final exam, we think “oh, well. At least no one got hurt” because we define “hurt” in terms of immediate, short-term, physiological and safety parameters. We are unable to see the long-term harm caused to the person’s own sense of belonging, esteem and self-actualization, but also the harm caused to the others impacted by the person’s cheating like the professor (who no longer trusts students) or the institution (that must spend money on combating student cheating).

The problem for integrity is that cheating can actually result in immediate improvement in physiological and safety needs as long as the professor doesn’t notice and the student doesn’t get caught. If a student cheats successfully, they immediately see a positive impact in terms of a higher grade than they would otherwise have received. If a student cheats successfully, the instructor is lulled into thinking that they are a better teacher than they really are. Everyone is happy and their needs are met. The truth is that cheating only threatens our immediate physiological and safety needs if the cheating is caught.

Integrity is a long game and human beings are notoriously bad about thinking long-term.

So, after 16 years of trying to convince people that “integrity matters”, I am beyond thrilled to be the editor of the new Integrity Matters Blog for ICAI. It is my hope that through this blog, along with the other great work done by ICAI, that we can spread awareness about the fundamental nature of integrity, enhance skills in creating cultures of integrity, and advance knowledge that will help us answer a very fundamental question – why does integrity matter? – and it’s follow-up – and what can we do to support and promote it in ways that create cultures of integrity where integrity is the norm and cheating is the exception?

To that end, we welcome submissions to ICAI’s Integrity Matters Blog here. We will be posting reactions to integrity or ethics in the news, educational materials, instructions for implementing integrity, research news, visual materials and more. We accept your submissions per our guidelines. And it is through this forum (as well as through ICAI’s Webinars, Regionals, and Conferences) that we look forward to facilitating our integrity dialogue and perhaps someday, needing no longer to ask the questions because everyone will just assume that integrity does indeed….matter.

About the Author
Tricia Bertram Gallant, Ph.D. is the author of Academic Integrity in the Twenty-First Century: A Teaching and Learning Imperative (Jossey-Bass, 2008), co-author of Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), editor of Creating the Ethical Academy: A Systems Approach to Understanding Misconduct & Empowering Change in Higher Education (Routledge, 2011), and section editor for the Handbook of Academic Integrity (Springer, 2016). She is the Director of the UC San Diego Academic Integrity Office and Board Member of the International Center for Academic Integrity, and has been an ethics lecturer with the Rady School of Management. When Tricia blogs, the content is hers and should not be attributed to her employer or ICAI.
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