Academic Integrity: Definition, Policy & Overview

Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

Academic integrity is the moral code by which education is administered. In this lesson, we will discuss the definition, current policies, and overview of academic integrity in modern academia.

What is Academic Integrity?

You're a college math student and you know your stuff. You sat through all the lectures and can practically quote the text. You can probably ace the big exam, but you decide to skip the test and modify the grades through hacking instead. It doesn't hurt anyone, allows you sleep in one morning, and everyone wins. Why not? Well, if you do so, you compromise your academic integrity.

Academic integrity is the moral code that governs academic institutions. In other words, it is the standard of ethics by which academia operates--the standards by which concerned organizations ensure that grades, publications, research, teaching, and other academic efforts are conducted in an above-board, honest fashion. Some of the areas of concern include:

  • Cheating on assessments and assignments
  • Plagiarism--using someone else's work, without giving them credit for that work
  • Grade subjectivism--an educator who is unfair in the way he or she assigns grades
  • Research fraud--conducting research in a way inconsistent with accepted ethics and honesty standards, reporting results that are inaccurate, or reporting results in such a way that inappropriate conclusions are reached
  • Publication dishonesty--writing materials that misrepresent facts, opinions, or judgments, making false claims, misrepresenting or misinterpreting research reports
  • Administrative dishonesty--making inappropriate or unethical decisions, in regard to students, faculty, or policy, that contradict sound academic ethics and practices.

Policies Regarding Academic Integrity

Institutions and governments have many different standards regarding academic integrity policies. Although the intents are the same--everyone wants the same result--the policies vary widely in regard to what is considered appropriate, how ethics and honesty are enforced, and the penalties applied for various infractions.

For example, Dolores finds a great paper online that summarizes her research paper. Thus, she decides to use most of that paper, only changing names and a few other minor elements. This is plagiarism. Although school policies vary, Dolores might face the following consequences:

  • She'll probably get caught--there are many simple ways to watch for plagiarism. There are computer programs and services that test for plagiarized passages. A Google search will tell you if a passage is stolen.
  • She will lose credit for the work--no institution will allow plagiarized content to receive credit. Dolores, if given the opportunity, may have to rewrite it, or she might receive no credit. Her overall grade for the course might be reduced--or you might be flunked out of the course. Finally, Dolores could be dropped from the institution.

When it comes to academic integrity as a student, the policies and penalties tend to be limited to the academic world. You can lose a grade. You can flunk out of a class. You can get kicked out of school. Your academic reputation can be ruined.

For professors, academic writers, administrators, and others who have academic responsibility, some of the penalties can be much worse, resulting in loss of a professorship or future jobs in academia. In some cases of research abuse or plagiarism, you can even be fined and go to prison.

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Additional Activities

Academic Integrity Writing Activities

Writing Prompt 1:

You read in the lesson that plagiarism is an academic integrity violation. Sometimes plagiarism is intentional, such as when a student purchases a paper and submits it as her own, but more often it is unintentional, such as when a student fails to fully summarize, re-word, or cite a source of information. Understanding that plagiarism is inadvertent sometimes, and that students need to be taught how to avoid it, how would you handle plagiarism if you were a high school principal? Write 1–2 paragraphs describing the steps you would take to help ensure academic integrity when it comes to plagiarism. For example, you may have a policy wherein the first step upon the discovery of plagiarism is to talk to the student to determine if it was intentional. You may then have a decision tree to determine what to do if the plagiarism was intentional, perhaps fail or suspend the student, or if it was unintentional, such as require the student to take a class on plagiarism.

Writing Prompt 2:

Research has shown that when people are asked to sign a statement of honesty, such as promising not to cheat or use other's work as one's own, the incidence of academic dishonesty decreases significantly. If you were a professor of a college class, how could you use this information to help ensure academic integrity? Write down 3–5 ways this information could be used. For example, a statement of honesty could be incorporated into the beginning of every test, requiring a student to write and sign it before taking the test.

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