Honor and Honesty in the Academy – A Wonderful Example
Libby V. Morris
Earlier this week, I received a surprising email and encountered an admirable instance of
academic honesty. An author wrote to tell me that he wished to withdraw his manuscript from
consideration in the journal of Innovative Higher Education because he had just learned that
one part of his research had not been covered by the appropriate IRB approval, through an
oversight in the submission process. He said that for ethical reasons he would need to
withdraw the manuscript. He went on to apologize for using your valuable time and
resources. He hopes to straighten the problem out soon.
In over a decade of serving as the editor of Innovative Higher Education, this is the first
instance that I have encountered of this type of action after a manuscript has been accepted
with revise and resubmit. Considering the pressure to publish, especially for those faculty
members trying to progress through the ranks, the need to withdraw a manuscript would be
especially disappointing, as even the most limited research studies require large investments of
time and resources. What a wonderful role model of academic honor this faculty member must
be to his students! He clearly, as is said in the vernacular, walks the walk.
In my recent role as Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, one of my duties was to hear
student appeals on cases of academic dishonesty. The University of Georgia has a highly
structured process to consider allegations of academic dishonesty involving students including
facilitated discussions, continued discussions with an academic honesty panel, and a multiple
violations review board (http://ovpi.uga.edu/academic-honesty). Faculty and students are
recruited or volunteer to serve on panels to consider the cases with the options of dismissing
the case or assigning appropriate sanctions. Only a limited number of cases reached the Office
of the Provost; and my role was to review the entire file and listen to any recordings of formal
proceedings either to dismiss, uphold, or modify the sanctions.
After reviewing the files, an unsettled feeling generally came over me. I wanted to
understand clearly the facts and the reasoning that led to the outcome. As a mother (thankfully
my sons have graduated from college) and as a faculty member, I wanted to understand all
sides of the story. Of course, there is no way to identify a student who may be engaged in a pattern
of dishonest behavior from the foolish student who took his or her first short-cut. Hopefully,
the cases served as teachable moments for most of the transgressors. Perhaps being caught at
the course level and experiencing the humiliation and associated punishment will prevent
some from unethical and illegal activities in the future (think Bernie Madoff, the billionaire
investment adviser whose Ponzi scheme landed him in federal prison). Surely none of the
students I encountered are on that path! I could imagine the naivet that some students brought
into situations where mature decisions are required and the alternatives are undesirable (e.g.,
the term paper is not finished and a lowered grade is expected, or copying from the internet just
this one time wont hurt anyone to get it in on time!). The less than insightful student
might not clearly understand the ethical dilemma and the potential outcomes of his deception.
How could a student get into such a mess? Did the student not have basic ethical
upbringing? Does the student not understand that our social system is built on honesty,
trustworthiness, and the requirement that others can have confidence in what is published or
written or said? Developing ethical understanding is likely a journey. I was dismayed to learn
how quickly and foolishly some students threw away their academic careers and good name to
excel in a course by taking short-cuts, by engaging in plagiarism, receiving unauthorized
assistance, or lying. When or if parents became aware of the cases, they were often incredulous
and heart-broken. More than once, I felt sympathy for a distraught parent.
The University encourages all faculty members to promote integrity in the classroom and
beyond by placing information about academic honesty on the syllabus, by discussing
expectations for performance, and by monitoring behavior. The professor I referenced at the
beginning of this editorial did more. He set an example. He stepped up and revealed the
problem with his research. He could have just said he was withdrawing the manuscript from
further consideration. I hope he will share his example with his students, with his colleagues.
He should be proud of his action, although I am sure he must be frustrated.
Heres to a more just, kind, and trustworthy academy!