In today’s complex, speed-centered, and information- oriented society, cutting corners, taking shortcuts, and operating on the fringes of ethical conduct to gain market advantage have become more common in the highly competitive business environment. The failures of Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, and other major businesses resulted from fraudulent management behavior due to pressures for profit. Regulatory action by the federal government, such as the enactment of the 2002 Sarbanes- Oxley Act, is a common approach to ethical business lapses. Interestingly, many of the major corporate executives caught in fraudulent scandals were educated in top-ranked business schools. At the same time, applicants for business and other professional schools such as schools of law or medicine have been known to try to hire high-scoring imposters to take their graduate admission tests or other appropriate standardized measures. John Hechinger (2008) notes the use of digital fingerprinting and palm scanning to validate the identity of test takers, for business school applicants in particular. To combat dishonesty, business school applicants also are photographed and videotaped while they are taking their exams.
In response to dishonesty, the law has made it clear that final disciplinary decisions need to be objective and grounded in fact. Although Board of Curators of the University of Missouri v. Horowitz (1987) dealt with dismissal due to a student’s poor academic performance rather than academic dishonesty, it is worth noting. This is because in it, the U.S. Supreme Court illustrated the requirement that even though it was willing to defer to their expertise in matters of academic decision making, officials in higher education must base their judgments on objective, defensible criteria. Although Charlene Horowitz had excellent grades on written exams and in her clinical performance, concerns about peer relations and hygiene prompted faculty members to recommend that she be dismissed from the medical school. The Court held that it would not interfere with university and faculty decisions in their area of expertise, thus reversing an order of the Eighth Circuit that had entered a judgment in favor of the use of procedural due process in academic decisions.
In disciplining a student for unethical or unacceptable behavior, officials in higher education institutions must provide notice of infractions with opportunities for those charged to present defenses. McMillan v. Hunt (1992) highlights the importance of evidence in dismissing students from universities. After comparing Jacqueline McMillan’s research paper with that of her roommate and talking with two students, McMillan’s instructor was convinced that McMillan had plagiarized the work of her roommate. The record revealed that the roommate had finished her paper several hours earlier than McMillan and that the papers were strikingly similar. The Student Disciplinary Committee found that McMillan had violated the student honor code and recommended permanent expulsion from the university’s law school. McMillan, a first-year student, unsuccessfully filed suit, claiming violations of her rights to procedural and constitutional due process. She argued that officials at the University of Akron School of Law acted arbitrarily and capriciously in dismissing her in violation of her rights. The court noted that in light of the evidence presented that the student copied her roommate’s paper, combined with the fact that law school officials had a rational basis for dismissing her, it had no choice but to uphold the adjudication of the law school’s Student Disciplinary Committee.
When it comes to plagiarism, students who are required to complete reports and projects may change titles and a few other items in copying each other’s work. Students operate on the expectation that faculty will not have the time or inclination to ferret out their dishonesty. Charges can be brought by faculty, administrators, librarians, staff, or students for alleged violations of codes of academic integrity or for other dishonesty.
Once charged with dishonesty, students must be afforded hearings with opportunities for the accused to provide their sides of the stories. Careful adherence to legal protections for both the accused and the institution is essential. Students or accused faculty may bring charges of defamation of character. Excessive and consistent violations of ethical codes may have a demoralizing effect on classmates who do not cheat. Moreover, as Kenneth H. Ryesky (2007) points out, repeated violations can lower morale while creating cynical attitudes and disrespect for faculty members.
Insofar as students have ready access to widely advertised companies that sell term papers covering all subjects, addressing issues of academic dishonesty requires a total commitment from all institutional components of higher education. Faculty members need administrative support for their student disciplinary actions. Penalties for academic dishonesty depend on individual institutions, the seriousness of the offenses, the character and accomplishments of individuals, penalties assigned others with the same or similar offenses, and the purpose of the disciplinary actions. Sanctions may include warnings, grade reductions, course failures, additional student assignments, or other disciplinary measures as deemed appropriate.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (1974), which governs student records, protects student privacy while allowing leeway for situations when a need for information may outweigh privacy interests. It should be followed when academic dishonesty issues arise with regard to students, faculty, or administrators. Students’ personal identifiable information must be kept confidential and should not be released by officials without written consent unless there are legitimate extenuating circumstances.
According to Ryesky, an emerging issue is that academic dishonesty may be viewed differently in other cultures. In our increasingly diverse society, where there are many different ethnicities and language skills, academic counselors and faculty should review college and university codes of conduct to help those from other cultures become familiar with ethical expectations.