Academic Misconduct: A Focus for Our Campus
Author: Domanic Thomas, Director of Conduct and Community Standards
Posted: June 13, 2013

Portland State University (PSU), like most institutions, has a student code of conduct that outlines the specific policies and expectations of each student.  In addition to these responsibilities, it more importantly outlines the rights of our students.  It is the responsibility of every member of the PSU community to uphold these standards of behavior and ethics to maintain the integrity and safety of our community.  Concerns being addressed by Conduct and Community Standards range from issues of classroom disruptions, alcohol abuse, and sexual assault to academic misconduct.

One of the most fundamental issues that must be addressed by an institution is academic integrity.  The philosophy that undergirds the conduct process is to promote fairness, integrity, and respect in our community.  The lack of respect for the learning environment and integrity of the course goes without saying in a case of academic misconduct.  When students cheat, in any form, they also gain a short-term advantage over others who are abiding by the expectations of that particular exam or project and that is not fair.  The basic principle of fairness is an expectation of most people in all aspects of their career, grading, and the justice system.  We expect nothing different in the case of our learning environment on campus.

Our office has invested a considerable amount of resources in addressing and educating students and faculty on the topic of academic misconduct.  To boil down the issue to plagiarism alone would be limiting the scope of what students are engaging in.  The definition is much broader and covers issues like unauthorized devices or collaboration, re-use of the same paper, and fraudulent research to name a few.  

Our office underwent a review of which departments reported had the fewest and most reporting of issues related to academic misconduct.  A concerted effort was made to outreach to students on the front in of areas with higher levels of reporting.  Conversely, our office outreached to faculty in other areas to make them aware of our office and the importance of having centralized reporting in dealing with these matters.  

Investments in software and online tools have been a focus.  We have partnered in a limited license and have access to a plagiarism detection software available for consulting on suspected incidents of plagiarism.  Educating students found responsible was also a focus.  We were fortunate enough to renew our online workshop to help educate students found responsible for lower level incidents.  This has allowed for more flexibility than an in person workshop that preceded this opportunity.  

Lastly, we have partnered with many of our faculty in supporting proctoring efforts for exams.  It was found in our outreach to faculty that some have been overwhelmed in monitoring large classrooms during mid-terms and finals. This direct support of faculty is something that we hope to continue in maintaining the integrity of our courses.

Addressing student behaviors that do not comport with our code of conduct is important for clarifying the mission and values of PSU.  Instances of academic misconduct inhibit the development of important skills like writing, analysis, problem solving, and overall growth of students.  Dealing with academic misconduct incidents supports the education of the students involved.  They are given the opportunity to understand the impact of integrity issues on the community as well as often mandated additional support in the subject to prevent future incidents.  Our office will continue upholding the values of the institution through this process.  We will explore new ways of reaching out to students and faculty about the importance of this topic and supporting the learning associated with it.