Statement On Academic Integrity

By Peter J. Denning, 9/4/2001
Endorsed by the CS Faculty 10/3/2001

GMU is, and will continue to be, an honor code university. I write to explain what this means to me, and to you as my students, in our classes together.

In the past few years, GMU has had many cheating incidents. Many honest students were upset because they were put at a disadvantage by those who cheated, and because they thought that if GMU were to become known as a "cheating university," it would cheapen the value and significance of the GMU degrees they were working toward. Many faculty expressed concern as well. Last year, the Provost formed a study group, whose report is now available to the GMU community.

The word cheating covers many wrongs, the two most common of which are attempting to pass an exam by stealing the answers from other students or from the faculty, and attempting to pass off someone else's program or term paper as one's own. I will focus mainly on the second wrong, around which most of the confusion seems to exist. (Most people who steal answers on exams know they're doing wrong.)

The word integrity means true to your word. Your actions are consistent with what you say. You are who you say you are. You keep your promises and you promise nothing you can't deliver. You are a whole, consistent person.

If you speak and act honestly, people will come to have confidence in what you say; and that will make your working relationships productive and rewarding. However, if you profess honest virtues but act dishonestly, or if you say something is unethical but do it anyway, other people will conclude you are insincere and untrustworthy. They will not want to work with you and will avoid you. Some will ask how you manage to live with yourself. Some might complaint to an authority and you will then have to defend yourself against formal accusations.

So "integrity" has consequences both for you and your reputation with others. If you develop a rigorous practice of integrity, you will feel good about yourself, you will be healthier, and others will trust you and want to work with you. If you are not practicing integrity, you will know it because you won't feel right about it; moreover, others will know it and will not trust you or want to work with you.

Academic integrity means that you follow the GMU honor code in your academic work because you said you would follow that code when you enrolled here. It means that you enter into the practice of integrity with your schoolwork. It means you don't copy or steal test answers or pawn off other work as your own. It means that if you violate the honor code you will bring on yourself the negative consequences noted above, not to mention the consequences reserved specifically for violators.

The biggest area of confusion for students in their academic practices is collaboration. To what extent can you collaborate and incorporate ideas and work of others into your own? What follows is my own philosophy, which I practice in my classes with my students, and which is shared by the other faculty.

My foundation principle is that all learning is social. You learn in the context of your relationships and with a community of others. Even when you think you are learning alone, you are not alone. You are using books, papers, articles, web pages, and other objects made by others for your benefit. You are trying to live up to standards set by the community. You are subject to assessments by others including your teachers, your coaches, your managers, and your colleagues.

Therefore, in my classes, I don't want you to learn by yourself. I don't pretend that you can. I put you in learning teams not only for projects but also for discussions of class work and homework assignments. In your teams I want you to participate fully, contribute your best to the team's mission, and keep your word with your team mates. In your discussions I want you to share ideas freely, answer questions, and question answers.

When your team submits a team paper or team report, that paper or report is the team's work and is signed by all team members. I assume all team members have contributed equally and award each team member the paper's grade.

Not all classes use learning teams or project teams. Those that do subscribe to these same principles.

When you submit a report or program as an individual, you are representing that the work in the paper is your own. If you have drawn on the work of others, you must cite that work. For example, if you drew from a book, you cite the book in a footnote or at the end of your report. If you drew on conversations with another, you acknowledge that other person in an acknowledgement section. A good test of whether you have adequately acknowledged another's contribution is to ask how you would feel if you were them and read the paper as is. Would you feel your ideas were stolen? Given proper credit?

If someone has given you their text, and you are influenced by it, you can acknowledge by citing their text. If you want to quote from their text, you include the quotation in yours and cite them as the source. Remember that, under the law, every text is automatically copyrighted by its author. The law says you need to ask for their permission when you want to include more than a few lines of quotation in your work, and you should note in your citation that the text is included with permission.

If you include someone else's text in your own without quoting or attributing it, the reader will assume you are the author. But you are not. The practice of using other people's texts and representing them as your own has the unpleasant name plagiarism. Plagiarism is dishonest.

People like it and appreciate it when they have contibuted something to you and you are grateful to them and show it. This increases their trust in you and their willingness to work with you. Conversely, you can quickly sour or ruin a friendship by taking someone's idea and representing it as your own without acknowledging them. If someone uses your text as if it were theirs, you would justifiably be angry. You would say they have stolen your work, and with it a piece of you. Consider how you would feel if you were starting up a company and your discovered that someone has stolen your main code and is using it in another startup company.

In our Networked Age, every text you write is part of your indentity. Someone who steals your text steals part of your identity. If you plagiarize, you are stealing part of someone else's identity. Do not be an identity thief.

The World Wide Web makes an enormous volume of documents available to you at the click of your mouse. All those documents are written by real people who hold the copyrights on those documents. Most of them will state their copyright restrictions on their documents. Unless they display an explicit notice that the document is public domain, do not assume that a document in the Internet is free and can be used in any way you see fit. If you download an Internet document and do anything other than read it, you are almost certainly violating a copyright. Many documents (especially music, video, art images, books, and published articles) also have restrictions on personal use; you may not store or perform them on your personal computer or transmit them to another person without permission from the copyright holder. As for class work, anything you find on Internet needs to be acknowledged if you use it in any way as part of your work. To not do so is to violate the copyright law, to plagiarize, to be an identity thief, to betray academic integrity.

The Internet-enabled practice of downloading term papers and programs, or substantial parts thereof, and presenting them as (parts of) term papers or programs is a no-win practice. If you offered the other work as your own, you would be dishonest and would fail the assignment for lack of proper acknowledgement of your sources. If you offer the work with an explanation that it is not your own and you acknowledge its source, you would be honest, but you would still fail the assignment because you did not do the work yourself.

If you have questions about whether specific actions you are considering are consistent with the honor code or not, please consult with me (or your instructor) in advance. If you see others taking actions that appear to be inconsistent with the code, consult with me (or your instructor) immediately.

We at GMU take the honor code and the matter of acknowledgement very seriously. We want you to practice integrity by acknowledging your sources, be they documents or people. If you do not do this, we will prosecute vigorously through the Honor Committee. The Honor Committee, students all, is generally not lenient. You cheat, you plagiarize, you're out.