Confronting Suspected Violations
Students, TAs, staff, or faculty members may witness someone cheating or become aware that a violation of academic integrity has occurred. Confronting this kind of problem is not an easy thing to do, but if we ignore incidents which occur, we cannot maintain our high standards.
If you suspect that a violation of academic integrity has occurred, several steps are recommended to help you begin the process:
Consulting appropriate resources
Talking with the student(s) involved
Prepare carefully for the conversation(s) so that you state your observations objectively and, as much as possible, avoid blaming anyone immediately. One purpose of this initial conversation is to help you determine exactly what occurred and what penalty, if any, may be appropriate at the course level. Another purpose can be to warn students that a particular piece of work gave an appearance of dishonesty and that you are concerned enough to try to prevent a problem in the future. Consider whether another faculty member or department head should be present for this conversation.
- "I have received a report that you were looking at someone else's paper during the exam."
- "I've been looking at your assignment, and I noticed that your work and Joe's work are strikingly similar. I'm wondering how you can account for that."
- "I observed you copying from another student's lab notebook. You have missed lab twice recently so I don't think you have collected data for the current lab. Can you explain to me what I saw?
Making a decision
If you believe after your conversation(s) that a violation has occurred, let the student know the severity of the situation in your view and explain what happens from here. As outlined in both the Undergraduate Academic Disciplinary Actions Overview and Graduate Academic Disciplinary Actions Overview, within one week of your determination of a violation, select a penalty that reflects the severity of the offense. Penalties vary but can include:
- Deduction of points on the exam or assignment in question. Some faculty opt to assign a score of a zero while others assign negative points, noting that if a student had not submitted any work, they would have earned a zero but the decision to cheat warrants further deductions.
- Requirement that a student retakes an exam or resubmits an assignment.
- Deduction of letter grade from the final grade that the student would have otherwise earned in the course.
- Failure of the course.
Communicating and documenting the decision
Once you have selected a penalty, you should communicate that decision in writing to the student, copied to the following listed individuals. Here is a quick reference guide for your convience.
- Your associate dean
- Your department head
- The student’s associate dean (if different)
- The student's department head (if different)
- The Dean of Student Affairs
Following up with the student(s) as needed
Expect that the student(s) will try to contact you to discuss your decision when he or she receives your letter. Even though these conversations may be uncomfortable, feel free to discuss the matter with the student. You may be able to help the student(s) understand your response and to see the rationale for their penalty. You may want to have another member of your department present if you are concerned about the dynamics of the conversations. It is possible for you to amend your original decision after a conversation with the student or if further information becomes available. It is important that you notify all of the recipients of the original notification of any amendments in outcome.
Please note that after receiving notification of academic integrity violations, staff from the Office of Community Standards and Integrity will reach out to students for appropriate follow up and to provide resources and support as they navigate the documented concern.
Preparing for second level review (as needed)
Forwarding documentation to Student Affairs
Both instructors and students can consider steps to enhance academic integrity in the Carnegie Mellon community. These suggestions are drawn from ongoing conversations with students and faculty over the years and from the literature on academic integrity. The steps below include ways individual instructors can enhance support for student learning and integrity.
Although these strategies will not eliminate all instances of cheating, they can significantly alter the circumstances that often leading to cheating, thereby mitigating a student's perceived need to resort to decision making that compromises his or her integrity.