West Chester University’s policy on academic integrity makes no bones about how the school feels about cheating, “Any situation involving a violation of academic integrity is of major concern to the University.”
Fair enough. A university lives and dies on its academic reputation, and widespread cheating can put a dent in that reputation pretty quickly. That doesn't mean, though, that the school never gets it wrong. In fact, it's often the schools that take academic honesty the most seriously that are the most prone to making false allegations and the most likely to impose disproportionate penalties.
If you should find yourself accused, it's important you know how justice is done at West Chester. Only when you know exactly what you're facing can you hope to properly defend yourself.
Understanding the Rules
Of course, the first thing you need to know about West Chester's academic integrity policy is just what qualifies as a violation. What are the rules, and how do you make sure you stay on the right side of them?
West Chester maintains a list of six separate types of violations:
- Plagiarism: Most of us are familiar with this one. In simplest terms, it means passing someone else's “words, ideas, or data” off as your own. You probably know better than to print out a journal article, slap your name on it, and turn it in to your freshman English instructor. Other kinds of plagiarism can be a bit trickier, though. For instance, it doesn't matter whether your source is published or unpublished: you must still give credit where it is due. In addition, many instructors treat images taken from websites as a form of plagiarism. Plagiarism doesn't just apply to words. In fact, you can be accused of plagiarizing music, art, even computer code.
- Fabrication: This violation involves inventing information and includes making up sources and falsifying lab data.
- Cheating: This is a pretty broad term, and it includes a whole host of behaviors. The simplest definition of cheating, though, is any action that gives you an unfair advantage in completing your coursework. That might be anything from copying answers off someone's exam to using sophisticated texting schemes to share answers with classmates.
- Academic misconduct: This is sort of a catchall for anything the other five prohibitions miss. West Chester offers such examples as “tampering with grades,” distributing advanced copies of an exam or sabotaging the work of others.
- Facilitating dishonesty: Helping someone else break the rules is basically treated the same as having broken the rules yourself.
- Breach of standards of professional ethics: Finally, many disciplines, such as nursing, require students practice professional ethics. Violating such standards is considered another form of misconduct.
West Chester University Justice
As it does at most schools, the process for dealing with allegations of academic misconduct begins with instructors. After all, it is instructors who are more likely to catch instances of plagiarism and cheating.
When an instructor believes they've discovered a violation, they have ten business days to assemble their evidence and provide the student or students with a written request for an explanation.
If the student can provide a suitable explanation, of course, the case is dropped.
However, if the explanation is unsuitable or if the student denies the charges, the instructor schedules a meeting within ten business days. Both sides may bring an advisor or “support person” to witness this meeting.
Following the meeting, the instructor has another ten business days to reach a decision in the matter regarding guilt and sanctions.
If the student disagrees with the instructor's final decision, they have the right to appeal that decision through the academic hierarchy:
- The first appeal is to the department chair or academic integrity board
- If the case is not resolved after the first appeal, the second appeal is to the college dean
- Finally, if the case is still not resolved, it is referred to the WCU Academic Integrity Board for an official hearing. At this hearing, both sides are allowed to present their case, including physical evidence and witnesses. Both sides are entitled to have advisors with them, and these advisors may be attorneys. However, advisors are only allowed in an advisory capacity. They may not address the board. The Academic Integrity Board's decision is final.
There are essentially three penalties an instructor may enforce in a case of academic misconduct.
- Alternative work: An instructor may ask the student to re-write an assignment or give the student a replacement assignment. This work may be for full or partial credit.
- Reduced grade on the assignment: An instructor may take points off the assignment, including failing the student altogether.
- Reduced grade in the course: An instructor may give a student a lower grade in the course, including a failing grade.
It is worth noting that students are not allowed to simply drop a course when they've been accused of academic misconduct. Rather they must go through the judicial process and accept any sanctions they receive.
In addition to these basic penalties, WCU keeps records of all academic integrity violations, and multiple violations are punished with additional sanctions, which can include:
- Any other sanction in the Student Code of Conduct
Joseph D. Lento, Academic Misconduct Attorney
Many students are tempted to simply accept a charge of academic misconduct and whatever penalties may come with it rather than stand up to their instructors and their schools. While this may seem like the easier option, it's never a good idea. Even minor violations can ultimately show up on your transcript, and a record of cheating could cost you scholarships, a place in a graduate program, even the chance at a good first job.
Joseph D. Lento is a highly experienced attorney who specializes in academic misconduct cases across the United States. He's served as an advisor to hundreds of university students at West Chester University and nationwide, helping them prove their innocence or simply negotiate fair outcomes. Attorney Joseph D. Lento knows how to make sure you're treated fairly and that you get the best possible resolution to your case.
If you or your child has been accused of academic misconduct, act now, before your deadlines run out. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686 or use our automated online form.