Academic integrity is often discussed as a pathway for learning and a way to respect others’ findings. Additionally, academic integrity is an intersection that can support diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging; when there is misconduct, learning is hampered. Transitively, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging suffer in the wake of academic misconduct.
Despite this fact, according to Sarah Elaine Eaton, “The topics of equity, diversity, inclusion, decolonization, and Indigenization have been neglected in academic and research integrity” (International Journal for Educational Integrity, 2022).
Students learn from educators in myriad ways. They learn from our behavior and what it is we include in our syllabi and how we assess them, just to name a few items. Ceceilia Parnther states, “Students learn what educators value and what we don’t care about—as well as who we hold to certain standards and who we don’t.” Parnther further clarifies equity in academic integrity as when “Everyone understands what is expected of them. They have the tools to be successful, and there is no question in that” (University of Calgary, October 2020).
In 1848, Horace Mann called education “a great equalizer of conditions of men”; the opposite also holds true. Students who don’t have access to education are vulnerable to a lifelong deficit in employment, earnings, and perhaps overall wellbeing. Academic misconduct stymies learning, no question. Similarly, there is no question that academic misconduct furthers inequity.
When students feel supported towards milestones and move forward in their educational journey, even if they falter along the way, the ultimate result is knowledge acquisition and readiness for next steps. Moreover, understanding and enacting academic integrity empowers students to rely on their own voice and move forward in their workplace with confidence.
How does inequity manifest in academic misconduct? And what can we do about it?
- Even the term of academic integrity itself needs to be contextualized. The very values (honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage) the well-respected ICAI states as the foundations of academic integrity, are in and of themselves dependent on cultural interpretation. Respect, for instance, in some collectivist cultures, may produce mimicry, which can then lead to plagiarism. Clarifying academic integrity terms in the classroom and globally can help students begin their journey at a more similar starting point.
- When students take shortcut solutions, such as plagiarism or contract cheating, they further their isolation from learning. As discussed above, this can set forth a lifelong trajectory of inequity or curtail further learning.
- While shortcut solutions are taken by both top-performing and struggling students, privileged and marginalized students alike, the quality of these shortcut solutions differ because gatekeeping can be economical. Some forms of misconduct, like contract cheating, have a financial component to them; those who are able to, may use more expensive essay mills that produce “higher quality” work, which then may be more likely to evade detection.
- Evading detection then brings us to the issue of those who “get away with it,” possibly the most inequitable fact of all. There must be data-driven, unbiased, equitable detection of misconduct. Solutions include similarity detection and assessment software that supports name-blind grading, mitigating any bias that may exist.
- DEI is broken when students are not evaluated by their current performance but with bias based on protected characteristics or prior performance, according to Parnther (University of Calgary, October 2020). Are we making generalizations about certain student populations like student athletes or international students? If there are increased violations in those populations, what is being done to facilitate their learning so that misconduct can be avoided? According to Sarah Elaine Eaton, “Identifying and challenging systemic barriers to student success should be fundamental to academic integrity work. This includes identifying and working to rectify systems that allow for overrepresentation of reporting among particular student groups including international students, students of colour, and those for whom English is an additional language (Bretag 2019; Eaton 2021a, b). Promoting academic integrity is about more than upholding rules and policies, especially when they perpetuate systems of privilege for some and oppression for others” (International Journal for Educational Integrity, 2022).
- How misconduct is handled is also key; is follow-up both faculty and student driven? Or is it entirely punitive? Are there pathways to recidivism? A “zero tolerance” policy may do more harm than good. Paul Sopcak addressed responses to academic misconduct by highlighting restorative practices that aim to reduce harm, increase responsibility, and model academic integrity at McEwan University (ICAI, 2021).
- Income inequality fosters distrust, which then fosters academic misconduct, according to 2012 research by Lukas Neville. In his research paper, Neville found that academic dishonesty was more likely to occur in states with higher income inequality and lower levels of generalized trust, concluding that “The relationship between income inequality and academic dishonesty was fully mediated by generalized trust” (Psychol Sci, 2012). In a related interview, he states, “If one of the root causes of cheating is distrust, this could explain why measures like honor codes work…when students trust that other people aren’t cheating, they are less likely to cheat themselves: (Association for Psychological Science, 2012).
The aforementioned points are not the only ways in which inequity can stymie academic integrity or further misconduct. But they are ways to initiate a conversation about fortifying academic integrity and supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
When we uphold academic integrity, the following occurs:
- Learning takes place, thereby bridging socioeconomic divides and producing better outcomes for students.
- Supported students develop a lifelong and healthy relationship to learning.
- When no one cheats, everyone is on equal footing.
- Original thinking, the outcome of academic integrity, contributes to innovation. If education leaders share the backgrounds of students and families they serve, the solutions they create are more likely to be relevant to student needs. Along the same lines, a McKinsey report found that diverse organizations outperform homogenous ones (DEI Expert Hub).
Building an awareness of inequities, and empowering ourselves as educators to promote academic integrity and making it more inclusive, is a first step towards making education a “great equalizer.” In their research, Eaton adds, “it is essential to include those from equity-deserving groups in senior leadership roles in our academic integrity networks and organizations, in our research and publications, and in our institutional units and offices with primary responsibility for upholding ethics and integrity.” From there, policy review and systemic changes can begin so that academic integrity continues to support DEIB efforts and goals.
In closing, Eaton’s words say it best: “There can be no integrity without equity” (2022).