More discretion in revised honor code

Tuesday, October 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:14 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

In the face of allegations of academic dishonesty, MU teachers and students now have the opportunity to determine a grade sanction without involving disciplinary action by the Provost’s Office.

Jim Devine, who oversees academic integrity issues on campus, said he thinksthe value of the new MU Honor Code lies in protecting students’ futures.

“I think it allows first-time minor offenses to not be part of the disciplinary process in order to protect students’ reputations,” Devine said. The code took effect this semester.

He said that if a disciplinary sanction is imposed, it will become part of the student’s file. If an educational sanction is agreed upon, nothing about the incident may exist within that file.

When an allegation of academic dishonesty has been made against a student, the case is sent to a student review board. Devine works with the board in an attempt to arrive at a sanction, which may include suspension, probation or expulsion. If the student disagrees with Devine’s recommended sanction, the student has the right to go to the campus student conduct committee.

Under the Honor Code, the instructor has the option to discuss the academic dishonesty allegation with the student. If they can together agree upon a sanction — for example, a reduction in course work, failing course grade, assignment of additional work — no disciplinary action will be taken by the Provost’s Office.

However, the code states, if this specific act represents the student’s second or a greater instance of academic dishonesty, the Provost’s Office may choose disciplinary sanctions — for example, suspension or dismissal.

In all cases, even those involving possible discipline, the individual faculty member has total control of the grade the student receives in the course.

Devine said every faculty member still has an obligation to turn over allegations of academic misconduct. If the student and teacher have reached an agreement, then the Provost’s Office won’t be responsible for taking any action themselves.

“If it’s a first-time minor offense, (teacher and student) can work it out,” Devine said.

He said his office still reserves the right to turn down the sanction if it learns the incident is not the first academic integrity violation for that student. Devine’s office deals with about 500 allegations of academic dishonesty a year.

“Most times, if teachers and students agree on an educational sanction, a disciplinary sanction won’t be imposed,” Devine said.

Alan Strathman, associate chairman of the department of psychological sciences, said MU has been working to bring an honor code to the campus for more than 2 ½ years.

“In the last 10 years, at places where an honor code has been instituted, we’ve seen improvements in creating a culture of integrity and reducing dishonest events,” Strathman said.

He sees the code as an overarching vision for MU.

“It’s a good place to start, to keep promoting integrity on campus,” he said. “The real benefit of this code is that we are really working towards integrating the university values into our culture.”

Nathan Weidner is chairman of the Academic Integrity Board, the student review board that works with Devine to arrive at sanctions. He also has high hopes for the new Honor Code.

“It doesn’t eliminate our purpose but rather lets us emphasize to students that when they are sent to Academic Integrity Board, it’s serious enough that the teacher didn’t want to deal with it themselves,” Weidner said.

Strathman said he thinks the new code will increase the likelihood of teachers reporting incidents of academic dishonesty.

“It seemed that instructors were interested in having more discretion, because sometimes they were unwilling to report the incident in the past because they were afraid of what might happen,” he said.

Weidner said his final opinion on the new code will be based on how it works.

“If it works to help deter cheating,” he said, “then it could be a great addition to policy for Mizzou.”

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