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How to Protect Your Academic Integrity

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Academic Integrity and the Penn State University Community

When you enrolled in Penn State, you became a member of a prestigious and hardworking university community. As part of this community, you are subject to the same high standards and expectations as your professors, instructors and teaching assistants. Some of these expectations are explicit; for instance, on campus you must abide by the rules and laws of the state; failure to do so can result in legal action. Some of the other expectations are implicit; that is, while they are not laws in the truest sense, they are standards Penn State expects as you strive for competence and success in the arena of higher education. Central to protecting and promoting the University’s standards is the high value we place on academic integrity.

What does this mean for you as a Penn State Student?

It’s important to consider yourself as a vital and important participant in the university community. You are a scholar, being educated by scholars; protecting your reputation as such means diligently practicing the academic respect appropriate to your station. In the plainest terms, this means acting responsibly, fairly, and honestly in all classes under all circumstances. This includes, for instance, when you’re not as prepared for a test as you’d like to be; or when you are, but someone you care about isn’t; or when you’re tired and working on a paper, and you must go back to locate bibliographic information (and it’s midnight); or even when the issue doesn’t involve you at all, say, a fellow student asks you for an answer during an exam. Should you participate in any of these activities, or ones like them, you are jeopardizing your academic integrity, and perhaps your grade. Be conscientious. When in doubt, talk over your concerns with your professors. They can assist you in learning how to navigate the rules of responsible academic scholarship. They, too, must practice them daily.

What can you do to protect your academic integrity?

When working in groups: Working with others on assigned group projects is fine, provided everyone contributes equally and is given credit for his/her fair share of work. Though difficult to enforce (a professor isn’t really going to know who put in a reasonable amount of effort and who didn’t), your sense of academic integrity should compel you to “do right” by your group members. Show up for all meetings and participate, distribute tasks in a manner that is fair, and remember that fair does not always mean perfectly equal. Ideally, you want to make use of each group members’ strengths to create a final product of which the whole group is proud. Bear in mind that helping one another on a group assignment does not translate well to individual projects. Serious scholars teach each other, give thoughtful reactions to others’ work, and provide constructive criticism. They maintain their academic integrity by not doing others’ work, or copying it, requesting test questions from someone in an earlier section of a course, or asking for “just one answer” from a neighbor during a testing situation.

When working alone: The most common risk to your academic integrity when working on a solitary project is plagiarism. When researching, keep scrupulous notes on the materials you're referenced. While it’s natural, and often required, to consult outside sources when working on a writing assignment, any outside material you quote or paraphrase must be appropriately documented. This holds true whether you tried to plagiarize or not. Unintentional plagiarism is still plagiarism. When in doubt, DOCUMENT. Take the initiative to learn responsible research techniques and avoid unintentional plagiarism.

Another threat to your academic integrity comes in your well-meaning intentions. You may want to help out a struggling friend or panicked neighbor by allowing him or her to copy your work or by giving them a whispered answer during a test. Doing so, however, is cheating, and although the desire to help is understandable, you sacrifice their learning—and your academic integrity—by giving in. Resist the urge to do “favors.”

All the time: Keep an attitude of respect for yourself and others at all times. When you’re committed to doing your best, you will find that academic integrity becomes an inherent part of your scholarship. You will also benefit from the confidence you build by doing well legitimately and by feeling secure that others are doing well (or not) legitimately. Part of the college experience is learning that scholarship is an ongoing process, and the struggles you face to earn a good grade or write your best paper help you develop both academically and personally. You will also find that as you practice academic integrity as a matter of course, you earn the respect of students and faculty alike, and will be accepted readily as an important contributor to the Penn State community’s well-being and success.

What are the consequences of failing to protect your academic integrity?

The consequences for violating the College's Academic Integrity standards are more serious than you might think; they typically range from failing the assignment or the course to receiving an XF grade--an indicator that a course was failed due to one or more academic violations--or other disciplinary action. By being proactive about maintaining your academic integrity, you can easily avoid these punitive measures.

Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism

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Plagiarism is the act of representing the words or ideas of someone else as your own. Whether deliberate or unintentional, it is a serious breach of academic integrity that carries serious consequences. The best protection against unintentional plagiarism is to educate yourself:

  • Learn about the various forms of plagiarism, and how to avoid them. The Penn State Department of English Types of Plagiarism document includes excellent definitions and examples of plagiarism by paraphrase and mosaic plagiarism. Also see the iStudy for Success! Academic Integrity Module for further examples of plagiarism.
  • Practice responsible research techniques. Penn State's Library Learning Services for students provide a wealth of information on identifying and locating resources; using periodicals, journals, and online sources; citing your sources; and more.
  • Keep a writer's guide close by as you write. A Writer's Reference by Diana Hacker provides very thorough information on how to cite your research materials. Specific samples illustrate the appropriate style for works cited pages, in-text citations, manuscript formats, and more.
  • When in doubt, ask for help. Your instructors and the peer tutors are available to answer questions regarding proper citation of outside sources.

How to Handle Charges of Academic Dishonesty

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If charged with academic dishonesty, you have two options:

  1. Accept the charge(s) and sanction(s).  Unless prior charges are discovered or your instructor recommends a disciplinary sanction, the Academic Integrity Committee will not review your case. The instructor’s recommended sanction(s) will be upheld and your case file will be sent to the Office of Judicial Affairs for record keeping.
  2. Contest the charge(s) and sanction(s). The Academic Integrity Committee will review your case. (The committee conducts paper reviews in the majority of cases. You will be notified if the committee requests that you appear at a hearing.)

Note: In either case, you have five business days upon your receipt of the Academic Integrity Form to sign and return the form to the instructor or to our office.

What to do if you contest the charges:

Inform yourself fully about the relevant academic integrity policies and procedures.

Prepare a statement detailing the case from your perspective. Your statement is your chance to voice your perspective, relevant evidence, special circumstances regarding your case, etc. Be thorough but stay focused on the alleged incident. Maintain a professional and composed tone.

Gather any other supporting documentation that you feel is relevant to your case (i.e. a list of cited sources used for an essay; a statement from a peer, teacher, or doctor; an e-mail train; etc.)

Note that you will receive a copy of the instructor’s statement and documentation and the instructor will receive a copy of your statement and documentation.

If the committee recommends a hearing instead of, or in addition to, a paper review, read the College Policy and Procedures.

Things to Remember

You may contact the Chair of the Liberal Arts Academic Integrity Committee, , or 865-1438 if you have questions or concerns, or if you would like guidance throughout the academic integrity process. The coordinator is a non-voting member of the committee.

You may elect to seek an advisor from UPUA Legal Affairs, a trained student organization committed to advising and assisting students with disciplinary issues on campus. UPUA provides free and confidential advising services for students charged with academic integrity violations.  They are located in 314 HUB and have walk-in hours Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  You may also e-mail them at psulegalaffairs@gmail.com or call 814-867-2197.

Do not drop the course; doing so violates University policy. The following is an excerpt from the G-9 Procedures for Academic Integrity:

“Once a student has been informed that academic dishonesty is suspected, the student may not drop the course during the adjudication process. Any drop or withdrawal from the course during this time will be reversed. A student who has received an academic sanction as a result of a violation of academic integrity may not drop or withdraw from the course at any time. These actions include regular drop, late drop, withdrawal, retroactive late drop and retroactive withdrawal. Any such drop action of the course will be reversed.” - Academic Administrative Policies and Procedures G-9, Section A6

You will be responsible for any assignments or deadlines that you miss if you drop the course to avoid a charge of academic dishonesty and are reinstated later in the semester.

Check your PSU e-mail account regularly for updates on your case.

Having a single academic integrity offense on your record typically does not constitute having a disciplinary record. For more information regarding your student disciplinary record, you may contact the Office of Judicial Affairs.

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