Academic Integrity: A Letter to Our Online Students (1)



Here at the beginning of the semester I want to say something to you about academic Integrity. (2)


I'm deeply convinced that integrity is an essential part of any true educational experience, integrity on my part as a faculty member and integrity on your part as a student.


To take an easy example, would you want to be operated on by a doctor who cheated his way through medical school? Or would you feel comfortable on a bridge designed by an engineer who cheated her way through engineering school. Would you trust your tax return to an accountant who copied his exam answers from his neighbor?  Or would you feel comfortable leaving a loved one at a treatment center were the counselors cheated on the certification exam?


Those are easy examples, but what difference does it make if you as a student or I as a faculty member violate the principles of academic integrity in a Human Services course, especially if it’s not in your major?


For me, the answer is that integrity is important in this course precisely because integrity is important in all areas of life. If we don't have integrity in the small things, if we find it possible to justify plagiarism or cheating or shoddy work in things that don't seem important, how will we resist doing the same in areas that really do matter, in areas where money, or for a counselor a life might be at stake, or the possibility of advancement, or our esteem in the eyes of others?  I once had a supervisor at an internship site, say to an intern “it’s not a big deal—we do not do brain surgery here.”  I went off on him in what in retrospect was an unprofessional way, Our client’s have just as deadly problems as any brain surgeon ever operated on.  We have not and will not ever have an intern work under him again.


. Personal integrity is not a quality we're born to naturally. It's a quality of character we need to nurture, and this requires practice in both meanings of that word (as in practice the piano and practice our counseling profession). We can only be a person of integrity if we practice it every day, don’t allow for self negotiation-it’s a slippery slope. 


What does that involve for each of us in this course? Let's find out by going through each stage in the course. As you'll see, academic integrity basically requires the same things of you as a student as it requires of me as a teacher.


1 This letter grows out of, and is based upon, ideas contained in the first draft of "The Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity," a document that was developed by, and is available from, the Center for Academic Integrity ( The original letter was written by Bill Taylor of Oakton Community College, who has given permission to use his material.  I wish to acknowledge him for his role in producing this document.   I have minimally modified it specifically to address the Human Services Program, at Waubonsee Community College

2 The American Heritage Dictionary defines integrity as the "steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code."



I.                   Preparation for Class


"What Academic Integrity Requires of Me in This Area


With regard to coming prepared for class, the principles of academic integrity require that I come having done the things necessary to make the class a worthwhile educational experience for you. This requires that I:


"What Academic Integrity Requires of You in This Area


With regard to “coming prepared” for class, the principles of academic integrity suggest that you have a responsibility to yourself, to me, and to the other students to do the things necessary to put yourself in a position to make fruitful contributions to class discussion. This will require you to:


ll. During the Semester In Class

"What Academic Integrity Requires of Me in This Area

With regard to class activities, the principles of academic integrity require that I take you seriously and treat you with respect. This requires that I:


·         both encourage you, and give you an equal opportunity, to participate in class discussions,

·         contain you if your enthusiasm for participating in the discussions makes it difficult for others to participate,

·         assume that you are prepared for class at the time you log in,

·         respect the views you express and not make fun of you or of them,


What Academic Integrity Requires of You in This Area


With regard to class activities, the principles of academic integrity require you to take both me and your fellow students seriously and to treat us with respect. This requires that you fully participate in all class activities, unless you are simply unable to do so-this obligates you to inform me as soon as possible of your inability to participate,


·         respect the other students by not making fun of them or their ideas, and by not holding side-conversations that distract them ( and me) from the class discussion.


III. With Regard to Exams


What Academic Integrity Requires of Me in This Area


With regard to exams, the principles of academic integrity require that I:

·         develop exam questions that will be a meaningful test not only of the course content, but also of your ability to express and defend intelligent judgments about that content,

·         carefully monitor the exam so that honest students will not be disadvantaged by other students who might choose to cheat if given the opportunity, and

·         give due and careful consideration to your answers when evaluating them and assigning a grade.


What Academic Integrity Requires of You in This Area


With regard to exams, the principles of academic integrity require you to:



·         not giving help to other students, or discussing the exam with anyone, who has not already taken the exam.


IV. With Regard to Written Assignments


What Academic Integrity Requires of Me in This Area


With regard to written assignments, the principles of academic integrity require that I:

·         provide you with a clear description of that assignment so that you know what is expected of you and what I'll be looking for when I grade it,

·         give due and careful consideration to your paper when evaluating it and assigning a grade, and

·         confront you if I suspect that you have plagiarized or in other ways not handed in work that is entirely your own.

·         Confront you if I suspect that you did not engage in proper research, or participate in a reported activity



What Academic Integrity Requires of You in This Area


With regard to written assignments, the principles of academic integrity require you to:

·         hand in a paper which you yourself have done specifically for this course and not borrowed from someone else or recycled from an earlier course,

·         not be satisfied with a paper that is less than your best work,

·         seek only appropriate help from others (such as proof-reading, or discussing your ideas with someone else to gain clarity in your thinking), and

·         give full and proper credit to your sources.


Let me expand on this last point, since it applies to both you and me.


By its very nature, education and the accumulation of knowledge is a shared enterprise. None of us has the time, let alone the background knowledge required, to learn everything on our own. Virtually everything we know has come to us because someone else has taken the time to think about something, research it, and then share what s/he's learned with us in a class lecture or, more likely, in an article or book. This is every bit as true for me as a teacher as it is for you as students. I'd have very little to teach if all I could talk about is what I've learned solely on my own.


In a class lecture it would be too disruptive if I stopped to cite all of my sources, but I know, and you need to know, that I am sharing with you the things I've learned from hundreds of different authors, mentors and former clients. What I contribute is the way I bring their ideas together into a coherent whole so that it makes sense to you.


If this is true for me, how much more so for you. I have many more years of education and reading behind me than you do. I don't expect you to do original research. Instead, I expect you to read about the research of others, and to bring together their ideas in such a way that makes sense to you and will make sense to me. Therefore, it's essential for you to cite your sources in any research paper you write. The academic reasons for doing so are to give credit to those who have done the original research and written the article or book, and to allow me to look at them if I needed to find out if you have properly understood what the author was trying to say.  If a source’s confidentiality needs to be protected, you may use false names, but make sure it is clear that the name is false, and this is being done to protect confidentiality


But at a practical level, citing your sources is a way to show that you've done the assignment. If your paper contains no citations, the implication is that you have done a piece of original research, but that wasn't the assignment. Citations (along with the bibliography) show that you have consulted a variety of resources as the assignment required. They're also an acknowledgement of your indebtedness to those authors.


So don't feel you need to hide the fact that you're drawing from one of your sources. That's what it's all about.


V. With Regard to Your Final Grade


What Academic Integrity Requires of Me in This Area


With regard to your final grade, the principles of academic integrity require that I carefully weigh all of your grades during the course, as well as the other factors that affect the final grade as spelled out in the syllabus, before assigning a final grade.


What Academic Integrity Requires of You in This Area


With regard to your final grade, the principles of academic integrity require that, if you feel I've made a mistake in computing that grade, you have a responsibility to come to me as soon as possible prepared to show why you think I've made a mistake.


VI. Failures to Live up to Our Responsibilities


In all of the areas listed above, I will do my best to live up to my responsibilities. If you feel I've failed to do so, you have every right to call me on it. If you do, I have a responsibility to give you respectful consideration. If you feel that I do not do these things, you have the right (and I would say the responsibility) to bring this to our attention immediately


At the same time, I have a right to expect that you will live up to your responsibilities. If I get a sense that you're not doing so, I consider it a matter of my academic integrity that I call you on it.


Indeed, in certain circumstances (such as cheating or plagiarism) I view myself as required to charge you with a violation of the  Code of Student Conduct.


You should familiarize yourself with that Code. You can find it in the student handbook; it's also summarized in the College Catalog. Be sure to notice that there's a procedure that's designed to protect your rights. But that procedure might also result in one or another sanction being imposed on you if you're found guilty of violating the Code of Student Conduct.


Which brings me to the most difficult question with regard to academic integrity; what if you become aware of a fellow classmate who is not living up to the principles of academic integrity, but you sense that I'm not aware of it? What should you do? I'll give you the answer, but I'll acknowledge up front that it's a hard one. Nevertheless, I would hope that you would at least grapple with it if you are ever confronted with the situation. The answer is that you should speak with that student, asking them to stop, change their behavior, and if necessary demand that they speak to me regarding their actions—it takes courage sometimes to grow to be a counselor.  If you let it slide now, what will you do when faced with a difficult clinical issue?  If  the above have no impact on your peer’s behavior, you should tell me. But why?


Academic integrity, as with so much in life, involves a system of interconnected rights and responsibilities that reflect our mutual dependence upon one another. The success of our individual efforts in this course, as with so much in life, depends on all of us conscientiously exercising our rights and living up to our responsibilities. And the failure of any of us-even just one of us-to do what is required will diminish, however slightly, the opportunity for the rest to achieve their goals. That is why it's essential for all of us in this class to practice academic integrity, in both senses of the word practice. For practice today will lay a solid foundation for practice tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, so that through daily practice integrity will come to be woven throughout the fabric of our lives, and thus through at least a part of the fabric of society.


John Reese MS, CSADC

Human Services Instructor




Note: Permission is granted to use any or all of the material in this letter in any way that is consistent with its purpose of promoting academic integrity: William M. Taylor Oakton Community College Des Plaines, Il