Academic Integrity: Explaining it to Your Students

By Peter Connor

The American Heritage Dictionary defines integrity as the
“steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.”

The beginning of the semester is a great time to explain the academic integrity to your students. The murky part, of course, is communicating the message effectively.

Bill Taylor, a professor of Political Science at Oakton Community College in Illinois, did it by writing an open letter to his students, based upon ideas contained in the first draft of "The Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity," a project developed at Clemson University's Center for Academic Integrity.

The letter covers a lot of ground, out of which I have created a number of Teaching Tips that you will find indexed under TILT’s Related Tips in the right-hand column.

In the tip below, Taylor lays out the core of his belief: Integrity is a quality of character to which one is not born naturally and so must nurture and practice on a daily basis.

From Bill Taylor's "A Letter to My Students"

Here at the beginning of the semester I want to say something to you about academic integrity.

I’m deeply convinced that integrity is an essential part of any true educational experience, integrity on my part as a faculty member and integrity on your part as a student.

To take an easy example, would you want to be operated on by a doctor who cheated his way through medical school? Or would you feel comfortable on a bridge designed by an engineer who cheated her way through engineering school. Would you trust your tax return to an accountant who copied his exam answers from his neighbor?

Those are easy examples, but what difference does it make if you as a student or I as a faculty member violate the principles of academic integrity in a political science course, especially if it’s not in your major?

For me, the answer is that integrity is important in this course precisely because integrity is important in all areas of life. If we don’t have integrity in the small things, if we find it possible to justify plagiarism or cheating or shoddy work in things that don’t seem important, how will we resist doing the same in areas that really do matter, in areas where money might be at stake, or the possibility of advancement, or our esteem in the eyes of others?

Personal integrity is not a quality we’re born to naturally. It’s a quality of character we need to nurture, and this requires practice in both meanings of that word (as in practice the piano and practice a profession). We can only be a person of integrity if we practice it every day.

Note: The bulk of Taylor's letter is divided into sections (see TILT'S Related Tips) describing the similarities in the responsibilities both he and his students have relative to class preparation and participation as well as to exams, written assignments, and grading.

Sources:

Taylor, B. (n.d.). Integrity: Academic and Political - A Letter to My Students. In Academic Integrity Articles. Retrieved January 9, 2009, from the Clemson University Center for Academic Integrity Web site: http://www.academicintegrity.org/educational_resources/pdf/Letter_To_My_Students.pdf.

Copyright and Permissions:

This Teaching Tip was adapted from "A Letter to My Students," written by William M. Taylor: Political Science Professor—Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, IL.

NOTE: Taylor has granted permission for his letter to be used in any way that is consistent with promoting academic integrity (n.d., p.1).

Contributors:

Peter Connor - TILT Web Content Writer and Editor