Using A Crisis As An Opportunity To Improve Academic Integrity on Campus

A few years ago, I had a once-in-a-career opportunity that I hope to never have again—a consolidation. I was working as an administrator at a small state college when our state announced that we would consolidate with an even smaller state school. Despite our different missions, institutional styles, and the fact that we were two hours away, we set out to make it work. However, one of the primary challenges was that combined, both schools were lightly staffed and many administrators were taking jobs elsewhere—this came to ahead when the person in charge of the consolidation took a job months before everything was due—which sent the process into overdrive.

One of my tasks was overseeing a new student handbook. We put together a great team with representation from both institutions. We quickly began pulling together the best of both policies, writing them up, and sending them to the executive cabinet. While this was a nesting doll task, where one problem led to another, it also led to opportunities, including improving our academic integrity policies.

Years ago, when I was a faculty member, I once overheard a history professor complaining about a student plagiarism case, when an English faculty member on the hall mentioned the same student had plagiarized in their class years before. Anecdotally, I knew that plagiarism was an issue, and this was our opportunity to strengthen the policy. Collaboratively, we worked through a process to identify and track these issues, while still allowing for due process for students. However, a few days before the handbook was due, I knew something was missing.

My alma mater had an honor code, and many institutions that I greatly respected had honor codes, and I realized this was my opportunity to help create an honor code. I wish I could say that we had time to create a committee to jointly compose an honor code, but time wasn’t on our side. So I did what any academic does—I relied on expertise. Previously, I had worked with a colleague who was the Director of an Academic Integrity Office. He walked me through the scenarios, and pointed me to several resources, and that afternoon, I wrote a few drafts, sent them to my friend for feedback, and submitted the honor code to our student handbook committee with the same fervor that my students have when they submit a last minute essay. Soon, it was approved by the executive cabinet, and with the help of our Dean of Students, a few months later, I was addressing a new class of students during our first ever consolidated convocation.

They say that you should never let a good crisis go to waste, but this was truly an opportunity to strengthen academic integrity at our consolidated institution.

About the Author
Dr. Jordan Cofer is an Associate Provost and Professor of English at Georgia College in Milledgeville, GA. He is the author of The Gospel According to Flannery O’Connor and co-author of Reconsidering Flannery O’Connor and Writing the Nation. He has previously published works in the places ranging from the Kansas City Star to The Chronicle of Higher Education.