Revised academic integrity statement draws debate from MU Faculty Council

Thursday, March 18, 2010 | 8:09 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — In a heated exchange Thursday, members of the MU Faculty Council objected to a proposal that would take away the ability of professors to impose consequences for incidents of academic dishonesty.

The proposal includes general guidelines for all four UM campuses and gives each academic department the task of establishing a uniform process for dealing with student infractions.

Faculty Council members called the proposal confusing and ineffective.

The plan, now being drafted by UM counsel, would be forwarded to the board of curators. If approved, it would be added to the statement on academic integrity included in student handbooks and course syllabi.

Wilson Watt, MU's representative to the Intercampus Faculty Council, told the group the intent is to develop a policy for academic integrity that would be consistent across the four campuses.

The reason is "to ensure that decisions on what happens to a student when there is a violation of academic integrity aren’t capricious or arbitrary,” he said.

Academic integrity refers to plagiarism and other forms of dishonesty. Such procedures need to be consistently applied, Watt said, and a uniform policy would allow for fairer and less subjective implementation.

One guideline would limit a professor's ability to fail a student based on one incident.

“For example, you can downgrade an individual assignment as far as you want, but you can’t fail a student if they get 100 percent on the other 75 percent of assignments,” Watt said. “As a professor you need to address academic integrity, but you are not empowered to be punitive.”

Faculty expressed concerns about the wording of the statement and whether it was possible for a department to agree on reasonable consequences.

“Not everyone reading this statement would interpret it the same way,” said Doug Wakefield, director of the Center for Health Care Quality. “The problem is that the language isn’t clear and is subject to interpretation.”

Art Jago, a professor of management, pointed out the policy would not be uniform if each department sets its own standards.

“I just don’t see this as adding to consistency,” he said.

In explaining the policy, Watt also told the council that professional codes of ethics could still be a factor in developing the standards.

Watt cited programs such as medicine, nursing and social work. If a professional code includes honesty as a value, for example, cheating could be considered a violation of the code, he said.

“In this case, these students could fail a course if they are dishonest because that’s not compliant with the professional responsibility of the profession they are attempting to enter,” Watt said.

Clyde Bentley, an associate professor of journalism, said it would help to have legal advice on how to appropriately word statements for fields without professional codes.

Watt said the proposed policy change would be presented to all four UM campuses. He asked for written statements from MU faculty outlining their problems and suggestions to take back to the Intercampus Faculty Council.



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