Carnegie Mellon University

Investigating 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:

When you observe or learn of an incident which causes you concern, gather all the information that you can to help you respond appropriately. You can deal with your concerns directly with student(s), within your department or at the university level, depending on the situation. Gathering evidence from the beginning is important in the event that you or the student asks for second-level review.

If you are a TA, present this information immediately to the course instructor. If you are a faculty member, you may want to consult your department head to decide how to proceed. Also, staff in the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence or the Office of Community Standards and Integrity (OCSI) would be happy to discuss the situation with any faculty member or TA to determine an appropriate plan of action or to consult with you throughout the process.

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?

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 the Academic Disciplinary Actions Overview, 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.

Once you have selected a penalty, you should communicate that decision in writing to the student. You may wish to consult your department head and/or OCSI as you compose this letter. You should also feel free to consult our email templates for documenting student violations.

You can then submit the report to OCSI via the Academic Integrity Reporting Form. In addition to the standard form fields, we ask that instructors upload a copy of the email that was sent to the student. Instructors are also encouraged to submit supporting documentation at this time.

Once submitted, the report will be received by OCSI and forwarded by OCSI to the relevant associate deans, department heads/program directors, and academic advisor. 

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, OCSI staff will reach out to students for appropriate follow up and to provide resources and support as they navigate the documented concern.

Students can appeal your decision as outlined in the Academic Disciplinary Actions Overview. You may also request such a review if you believe the penalty should be more severe than failure in the course which is the most severe penalty that you can impose. In either case, you would be asked to participate in that process. To prepare adequately for a possible second-level review, make note of your conversations with the student(s) involved and save copies of emails and work submitted.