Campus News

UB establishes new Office of Academic Integrity, revamps policies

Diverse group of college students using digital devices, a sign above them reads, "Integrity.".

The Office of Academic Integrity is working to promote academic integrity as a core value of the university.

By SUE WUETCHER

Published October 14, 2019

headshot of Kelly Ahuna.
“By holding students accountable to honesty in the learning and research processes, supporting faculty in creating academically sound learning environments, and working with the campus community to fairly and consistently enforce academic policies, the OAI helps propel students to academic excellence and protects UB’s status as a premier research university.”
Kelly Ahuna, director
Office of Academic Integrity

As UB for the first time takes part in the International Day Against Contract Cheating on Oct. 16, the university has reaffirmed its commitment to integrity in the academic enterprise by opening a new Office of Academic Integrity and revamping policies regarding academic dishonesty.

The new office and academic integrity policies are the result of a five-year effort prompted by concerns on campus about the long and laborious adjudication process outlined in the old policies, as well as new challenges to academic integrity posed by ever-involving technologies, says Kelly Ahuna, director of the Office of Academic Integrity.

“I believe instructors were witnessing more acts of dishonesty, and the university wanted to determine a best method for approaching the issue within the specific context of the UB community,” Ahuna says.

An exploratory working group was formed, and faculty and students were surveyed about the culture of integrity and the implementation of academic integrity policies. Several subcommittees made up of faculty and staff across the campuses examined the survey results and best practices at other institutions, and held focus groups with faculty and students.

Ultimately, a faculty-integrated approach was used to develop a new adjudication process, and update and rewrite both the graduate and undergraduate academic integrity policies, Ahuna says.

The policies were approved by the Faculty Senate and the corresponding graduate policy committees, and promulgated by President Satish K. Tripathi in June 2018.

New policies more streamlined, less punitive

The new policies cover eight kinds of academic dishonesty: aiding in academic dishonesty, cheating, falsifying academic materials, misrepresenting documents, plagiarizing, purchasing academic assignments, selling academic assignments and submitting previously submitted work, Ahuna says.

She cites two major changes from the old policies.

The new policies are much more streamlined, she says. When accusations of academic dishonesty are made, the process still begins with consultative resolution between the instructor and the student. But now student appeals go to the Office of Academic Integrity — as opposed to the chair, dean and then either the vice provost for undergraduate education (undergraduates) or dean of the Graduate School (graduate students) — where the finding and sanction are either upheld or granted a review by an adjudication committee.

The other key difference, Ahuna points out, is that while the old policy was strictly punitive, the new policy allows undergraduate students to have the infraction removed from their record after completing a “remediation assignment.”

Remediation could be a sanction that is applied for graduate students accused of academic dishonesty, she says, but it will not lead to record expungement.

“Remediation is offered in the spirit of education around the value of academic integrity in the university setting, and the recognition that students can learn and grow from their mistakes,” she says. Remediation, she adds, “provides an opportunity for undergraduate students with first-time, non-egregious offenses to get their records cleared” and enables them — and UB — to report to graduate schools and employers that they have no record of academic dishonesty.

Christine Human, associate dean for accreditation and student affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and a member of the committee that developed the new policies, says the hope is that this remediation process “will encourage faculty to report violations, and turn a process that was previously just punitive into an educational opportunity.”

A core university value

Ahuna notes that a key finding that came out of the survey and committee work was the strong need for a centralized mechanism for record-keeping. Another was “a pervasive desire for more outreach and education related to the value of integrity at UB,” she says.

“It was determined that a central university Office of Academic Integrity could fill these roles, and university leadership worked to establish funding for the office, demonstrating their commitment to integrity as a core university value,” she says.

And promoting academic integrity as a core value of the university is a key mission of the new office, formally established at the start of the spring 2019 semester, Ahuna explains.

The office prepared an Instructor Reference Guide, distributed to all faculty and TAs at the beginning of the semester, that provides a wealth of information on academic integrity, including why it is important, how instructors can promote academic integrity in the classroom and prevent dishonesty, and what they should do if they suspect dishonesty.

“It’s gotten a lot of positive feedback from instructors,” Ahuna says.

The office’s website also provides resources for students and instructors.

“By holding students accountable to honesty in the learning and research processes, supporting faculty in creating academically sound learning environments, and working with the campus community to fairly and consistently enforce academic policies, the OAI helps propel students to academic excellence and protects UB’s status as a premier research university,” she says.

The office also maintains records of all reported academic dishonesty violations at the university, so that students who commit violations across multiple classes and/or academic units can be identified. Now, “we can track students and hold them accountable for their actions across the university to ensure that they are sanctioned more appropriately and consistently,” Ahuna says.

The office also will be able to obtain data on the prevalence of various kinds of cheating campuswide, and then use that information to better prepare faculty to prevent academic dishonesty and better equip students with resources and tools “so they can avoid being in a situation that could lead to cheating behaviors,” she says.

Human notes that while she thinks many students at UB already take academic integrity seriously, she thinks the increase in the number of online resources has made it more difficult for students to understand “what is ‘cheating’ and to make the right choices.”

“Consequently, I think the outreach and education that the new Office of Academic Integrity can provide is vital in setting expectations early,” she says. “I really hope that the additional outreach and education will change the culture moving forward. I also think the visibility of the new office will reinforce the importance of academic integrity to the university at large.”

Be a better Bull: #defeatthecheat

On Wednesday, UB will join more than 80 other colleges and universities around the world to mark the fourth International Day Against Contract Cheating, which also coincides with the Global Day of Ethics.

Contract cheating occurs when one person completes academic work, such as an assignment, exam or paper, for another who then submits it for academic credit.

Information tables will be set up in the Student Union lobby on the North Campus on Oct. 16 and in the Harriman Hall lobby on the South Campus the following day.

Students, faculty and staff will be able to write on white boards, completing the statements “Academic integrity is important because …” or “I don’t cheat because ….”

They can also sign a large board pledging their commitment to academic honesty, play a game and collect a specially designed sticker for their laptop.

The Office of Academic Integrity also will have a social media presence on campus Instagram platforms. The hashtag for the international event is #defeatthecheat, and UB’s internal slogan is “Be a better Bull.”

READER COMMENT

I'm glad to see this initiative by the administration, though I have to say that in my over 40 years of teaching at UB, I encountered very few instances of academic dishonesty among my students, undergraduate and graduate alike.

What I think the university probably requires, too, is some attention to integrity in administration. There have been two major instances of illegal or at least dubious activities in the administration of public monies at UB in recent years. I speak of Dennis Black and most recently of the State Comptroller's revelations that appeared in the local press over the weekend.

These are especially disheartening, coming as they do at a time of problems of the funding of graduate education in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The years of my own career at UB were constantly punctuated by fiscal crises and resources shortages. A clueless undergraduate plagiarizing a term paper is bad for that student. Someone stealing from the university is bad for the institution's core mission.

David Gerber