Season on the line

The University Senate recently passed a committee’s recommendation intended to combat cheating among students. The proposal would require all incoming students — including transfers — to sign a personal academic integrity statement upon admittance, as well as a statement on every exam swearing they did not cheat. An Office of Academic Integrity would also be established to develop programs to increase awareness about the negative effects of cheating, and to investigate and suggest penalties for accusations of academic misconduct. Although the proposed office and the initial academic integrity statement would reduce academic dishonesty, forcing students to repeatedly swear they did not cheat on a test is redundant and even counterproductive.
The Special Senate Committee on Student Academic Integrity originally made its recommendations April 6. Although many students and faculty members envisioned an honor code and student-run grievance process, the committee considers the University too large for this type of system. An honor code might work individually for smaller colleges within the University, like the pharmacy school or the Law School, but its effects would be greatly reduced if attempted on such a large scale. Instead, the Office of Academic Integrity would allow adequate student representation, while still effectively serving a campus of 40,000 students.
Although allotting students only three out of nine posts on the Office of Academic Integrity’s board is less than ideal, it will guarantee student involvement in dealing with any infractions of the University’s cheating policies. A judgment by one’s peers is an essential aspect of dealing with academic dishonesty. Without adequate student representation, the office could expect little credibility among students.
However, the committee’s recommendation that students must continuously reaffirm their freshman oath to never cheat is far too repetitive and condescending to most students. Under the proposed guidelines, all students would have to sign every exam underneath the words “I have not cheated on this test.” Although students might need to be reminded of University cheating policies, which the committee cites as its reason for the continual need for student avowal, a simple reminder in the syllabus of what the student originally signed is all that is necessary. Considering that almost all students are adults, and that a signature would be required even on exams of upper-division courses, it would more often condescend students than it would discourage cheating.
Furthermore, the proposal would indirectly punish those who refuse to sign the statement on the exam, even if they had already signed the introductory agreement, and transcripts would list all of the tests that the students refused to sign. These marks might lead future universities or employers to wonder needlessly about a former student’s honesty.
Nonetheless, the committee’s recommendations will be given to the Board of Regents for final approval, possibly to be implemented next fall. If administrators wish to endorse a fair and efficient way to reduce cheating and promote academic integrity, they should endorse some of the recommendations. However, requiring students to constantly reaffirm their commitment to academic integrity would serve little purpose.