Higher learning institutions install academic integrity rules to prevent students from creating an unfair advantage for themselves or a disadvantage for others. Some acts blatantly violate academic integrity rules—such as cheating on a test, plagiarizing an essay, or stealing another student's property. Other instances of academic misconduct are not so apparent to students. Reusing assignments or exams is a common breach of academic integrity policies on college campuses. Many universities prohibit the reuse of one's work and consider it an act of self-plagiarism. Even though it is forbidden, approximately 60% of university faculty and students do not truly understand self-plagiarism.
Why Reusing Assignments or Exams is Prohibited
Many students aren't aware that they can get in trouble for merely reusing their own work. Universities commonly prohibit the reuse of assignments, papers, or exams for multiple courses under the grounds of plagiarism. Self-plagiarism is a type of plagiarism in which someone republishes a portion or the entirety of their work. Since self-plagiarism involves the reuse of one's own ideas, many people aren't aware that it is against the rules.
Furthermore, some universities don't explicitly define “self-plagiarism” in their academic integrity policies. This can leave students unaware of the consequences of reusing their own work. The American Psychological Association explains that “whereas plagiarism refers to the practice of claiming credit for the words, ideas, and concepts of others, self-plagiarism refers to the practice of presenting one's own previously published work as though it were new.”
Universities might consider the following acts to be self-plagiarism:
- Reusing the same paper from a previous course.
- Taking excerpts from a previous assignment and placing them in a new assignment.
- Reusing tests from a previous semester to gain an advantage on a new exam.
At most universities, faculty will charge students with academic misconduct for violating their plagiarism policy. This behavior can result in harsh consequences for students, including a failing grade, probation, suspension, or expulsion.
Academic Policies on Reusing Assignments or Exams
Students should ask their instructors for permission to reuse old work to ensure they do not violate school policy. Most universities will outline their stance on reusing assignments or exams in their academic integrity handbook. Although policies vary from school to school, it is generally against the rules.
For example, the University of Rochester's academic honesty liaison has a specific policy against reusing tests. It states that “reusing testing materials not only undermines the assessment value of the exam and promotes cheating, but it also promotes differential outcomes that are often based on race and/or other identity factors, as some students will have access to old tests through student connects and organizations while others will not.”
The University of Irvine sets forth a clearer policy to prevent students from reusing any old assignments or exams. Their academic misconduct policy prohibits students from “submitting substantial portions of the same work for credit in more than one course without consulting all instructors involved.” They provide examples of misconduct, including reusing work from a previous quarter.
At some schools, reusing assignments or exams is not explicitly mentioned in academic integrity policies. However, students can still face the consequences for recycling their work or using exams to gain an unfair advantage. These actions fall under narrow definitions of academic misconduct. At Northeastern University, for example, students are expected to complete “all examinations, tests, papers, creative projects, and assignments of any kind to the highest ethical standards.”
Academic Misconduct Violations
The punishments for reusing assignments or exams without permission can be severe. Students may be accused of academic misconduct and face consequences for their actions. Punishment depends on the circumstances of the incident as well as the campus policy. Disciplinary action can have immediate effects on the student—such as suspension or expulsion. Also, students may face long-term consequences for their actions. Academic misconduct offenses are a black mark on student records. They can lead to a loss of scholarships, jobs, and access to other educational programs.
Students accused of academic misconduct will have a chance to clear their names. Universities typically handle these allegations by holding a hearing. The hearing allows all parties to present evidence before the university makes a determination. Students accused of academic misconduct can speak about the incident, provide additional information to the school board, and make clarifications on the claims against them.
The university will then make a determination and invoke punishments on students found guilty of academic misconduct. A key element to academic misconduct hearings is the right for students to select an advisor—such as a faculty member or an attorney. Advisors will help students prepare their statements and defend themselves in the hearing. Although it is up to the individual, a student's best chance for a positive outcome is to select an experienced attorney.
Using Attorneys for Advisors
Students need to choose the right advisor for academic misconduct hearings. While faculty advisors can certainly help students navigate the hearing process, they are not always on the student's side. Faculty advisors are employees of the university, and they have an incentive to protect the school. This conflict of interest can cause them to act against the student's best interest. Students can also choose a family member or friend to advise them. They may be likely to work in the student's interest, but they often have little to no experience in academic hearings.
If you're accused of academic misconduct, it's crucial that you retain an attorney to serve as your advisor. An experienced attorney has the knowledge necessary to achieve a positive outcome. They can also help you defend your rights. It's not uncommon for universities to show biases against students accused of misconduct. If they infringe upon your rights to defend yourself or to obtain a fair hearing, an attorney will be able to push back. They can deal with the administration to ensure your rights to speak in the hearing, remain anonymous, and file an appeal of an outcome.
You need an experienced advisor on your side if you've been accused of academic misconduct. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm has defended students and achieved favorable outcomes in academic misconduct cases for many years at colleges and universities across the United States. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 to take the next steps in your academic misconduct case.