The Integrity Blog

The Integrity Blog explores timely issues regarding honesty, responsibility, and fairness in academic settings. Every day institutions of higher education face ethical and moral challenges. This blog both acknowledges the current environment and offers students an opportunity to discuss these dilemmas in an effort to promote integrity here at the University at Buffalo.

"Our goal was to emulate, not imitate."

Kennedy Alexis, Graduate Student, Urban Planning, Class of 2021

On Sept. 3, 2020, William & Mary College published a letter announcing that the college will be cutting seven athletic programs after the 2020-21 academic year. In this letter, William & Mary explains that the costs associated with sponsoring these Division I programs have grown dramatically over time and have become unsustainable. The letter further explains that the COVID-19 pandemic “has made [the] budget constraints acute and has brought [the university] to a point of reckoning” (William and Mary, 2020). Many universities across the United States took similar approaches to alleviating their increased financial burdens inflicted upon them due to the Coronavirus. This is not what brought William and Mary College to media headlines; it was that many sections of this letter were found to be plagiarized from an announcement made by Stanford University on July 8 about cutting 11 of their teams. Braden Keith from swimsman.com released images that highlight obvious parallels between the two documents.

In her Sept. 18, 2020, statement, Athletic Director Samantha Huge stated that it was her staff’s goal to “emulate best practices, not imitate” and that they “should have taken more care with the review of the materials shared”. The William & Mary Honor Code defines plagiarism as the “the presentation, with intent to deceive, or with disregard for proper scholarly procedures of a significant scope, of any information, ideas or phrasing of another as if they were one’s own without giving appropriate credit to the original source.” Following this definition, it is a bit difficult to understand that their goal was to emulate best practices when no credit was given to the institution whose best practices they were emulating. Huge, who holds a Juris Doctorate from Campbell University, has stopped working at William & Mary since October, but in her departure, she left a negative impact on the William & Mary reputation and her own.

As a student, the policies regarding academic integrity often feel biased as there are many formal processes that keep students accountable for their acts of academic misconduct, but very little or no processes that keep professors or administrators accountable for their actions. Students too often feel the consequences of academic punishment and to some extent it is warranted, as we are the ones preparing for our careers; but where is the accountability for professors and administrators who are in their careers? I think the William & Mary case shows us that there is a need for processes that also hold professors and administrators accountable. It seems that one stepping down from their position is the standard repercussion, but where is the lesson learned? At UB, students go through remediation to learn from their mistakes and understand how their acts of academic misconduct affect different people in their lives. When Samantha Huge stepped down, did she learn how her actions may have impacted students? I highly doubt it.

When students see acts of academic misconduct performed by professors and administrators it makes it difficult to create a culture of academic integrity on campus because these actions confirm the “everyone does it” phenomenon. “Everyone does it” is a common reason for cheating reported by students. Under normal circumstances, maintaining academic integrity when one sees their classmates cheating is difficult, but this William and Mary case could make it even more difficult for students. Imagine being a student that is struggling with an English assignment and is constantly pressured by their parents to receive high grades. After reading the article, one may consider that cheating or plagiarism is OK, because a school’s administrator did it, and many more may have also done it. For this reason, professors and administrators should all join the effort to create a culture of academic integrity on college campuses, not just as enforcers of policies, but also as followers. If academic integrity were more transparent and held all parties accountable, students would probably be more willing to abide by academic integrity policies because the standards are shared by all members of the academic campus.

Sources

Amid financial concerns, W&M to discontinue seven sports following the 2020-21 academic year. (n.d.). William & Mary. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://www.wm.edu/news/stories/2020/amid-financial-concerns,-wm-to-discontinue-seven-sports-following-the-2020-21-academic-year.php

Statement regarding communications about the future of Division I athletics at William & Mary. (n.d.). William & Mary. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://www.wm.edu/news/announcements/2020/statement-regarding-communications-about-the-future-of-division-i-athletics-at-william-mary.php

Section VI: Honor Code Violations. (n.d.). William & Mary. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://www.wm.edu/offices/deanofstudents/services/communityvalues/studenthandbook/honor_system/section_VI/index.php