New video explores university’s academic integrity policy​

Swindler Bernie Madoff fascinates Tamara King, JD, director of judicial programs at Washington University in St. Louis.

When did he start cheating? High School? College?

“It had to start sometime,” King said. “How did he get away with it? And why did he think cheating was okay?”

King wants to be clear: cheating at Washington University is not okay.

That’s why the Office of Student Conduct has released a video that outlines the university’s academic integrity policy and confronts the reasons why some students cheat.

Produced with the help of Dirk Killen, PhD, associate dean and academic integrity officer in the College of Arts & Sciences, and the university’s five academic integrity deans, the video also features students and faculty members discussing why intellectual honesty matters.

“We want to have a conversation early about our expectations and what it means to join an academic community,” King said. “The video is a proactive way to teach students what it means to be an ethical and honest person in your scholarship.”

Sharon Stahl, PhD, vice chancellor for students, will send a letter to upperclassmen urging them to watch the video. Freshmen were required to view the video and take a quiz about the university’s academic integrity policy before arriving on campus. Students needed to score 100 percent to pass.

“It’s one thing to talk about academic integrity in very broad terms, but to give students concrete examples that make them stop and think is so important,” Stahl said. “It’s vital for students to reflect on these issues — the philosophical reasons for the policy and why each of us makes this commitment — before joining the community.”

King says no student arrives at Washington University planning to cheat. And yet, 15 to 40 academic integrity cases are adjudicated every semester. The primary culprit — time, or the lack thereof.

“Time management is the number one reason students cheat,” King said. “We don’t believe people come here to cheat, but they put themselves in predicaments. This may be the first time for many students that they have to work at time management. So the video says, ‘When you find yourself in this predicament at 3 a.m., here is what we don’t want you to do.’”

King concedes that academic integrity can be a tricky concept. Of course, a student should never sit for a friend’s final or buy a term paper off the Internet. But when is collaboration actually cheating? And what distinguishes inspiration from plagiarism?

“Look at art. Great artists learn from other artists,” King said. “So how do you teach academic integrity? It’s different than teaching it in the business school. So we tell faculty, ‘Talk about this on the first day of class, address it on the syllabus, set the parameters.’ But if a student is unsure, it is ultimately his or her responsibility to clarify expectations with faculty.”

King hopes the video and ongoing discussions about academic integrity will dispel any notion that cheating is somehow a victimless crime. Again, King cites Madoff. His cheating cost victims billions of dollars.

“Our graduates will be in charge of patient health care, building bridges, creating businesses,” King said. “In all of these areas, trust is important.

“​If you are an engineering student and you cheat, that goes to your integrity. What happens if you get into the workplace and are building structures that people actually go inside? It’s a real easy connection between academic integrity and being an ethical, law-abiding, positive citizen of the world.”