Communicating with Students When You Suspect Academic Misconduct has Occurred
Why do I have to communicate with students when I suspect them of academic misconduct?
The basic requirement dictated by CSU Faculty Manual requires all faculty to notify students of their concern regarding any student work suspected of academic misconduct and to make an appointment to address the concern. In practice, it is best to engage the student in a conversation, give them an opportunity to respond, and then to make a decision on the work and whether or not academic misconduct occurred.
This approach is considered a best practice for a number of reasons. It allows the instructor to gather all information available to them before making a decision that could involve the university’s conduct process.
Secondly, it gives the student an opportunity to share information. Whether or not this alleviates your concern that academic misconduct occurred, allowing the student to respond helps maintain their right to due process. In addition, you might hear something that changes your mind and resolves the situation.
Lastly, it can provide a valuable learning opportunity for the student that helps them better understand your and the institution’s expectations for their work.
Which format is better?
It does not matter if this conversation happens in person, over telephone or Teams, or via email as long as basic elements of the conversation are met. When communicating over email, the Academic Integrity Program recommends setting a read-receipt request AND giving the student a deadline by which they must respond (usually 48 hours).
The Conversation: A Basic Outline
Share Your Concern
When you communicate with the student about the incident, the Academic Integrity Program recommends adopting a non-judgmental, fact-finding posture.
Let them respond; listen carefully.
After you have communicated your concern, invite them to respond. The Academic Integrity Program suggests using phrases like:
- Begin with clearly stating your concern about the student’s work.
- Be as detailed as possible about what occurred and how it may violate the university’s academic misconduct policy
Let them respond; listen carefully.
- “I wanted to get your thoughts on how this could have happened”
- “Help me understand why this assignment/exam/paper would look like this.”
Students naturally get elevated when they perceive they are being accused of something, especially something that impugns their values and sense of self like academic dishonesty. You can help by simply letting them tell their story and show you are listening to and are considering what they have told you.
When a student responds (whether in person, live on Teams or the phone, or via email),take notes on what they share. It will help you later when you have to decide how you would like to proceed and if you have to submit an incident report form.
Help them understand what comes next.
Conclude your conversation with them by letting them know that you will consider what they have shared and make a decision (that you will communicate at a later date.) Then, help the student understand the process.
One of the most valuable talking points I can share is letting students know that, even if you decide academic misconduct occurred and that you will report the incident to the Student Resolution Center, they will have an opportunity to be heard and share their information to a neutral third-party hearing officer.
Then, when you subsequently communicate your decision, you should also communicate your grading penalty (assuming you have found the student committed academic misconduct). You should be as specific as possible and help the student understand how that penalty will affect their grade.
These conversations, when carried out intentionally and fairly, are often highly impactful for student learning. Having the best version of this conversation benefits everyone.
Note: As always, feel free to contact Dr. Joseph Brown at the CSU Academic Integrity Program if you have any questions.