Community colleges must prize integrity by deliberately developing proactive, innovative and inclusive strategies to reinforce the behaviors of the honest students.
A few years ago, I wrote a book. Its working title, in the beginning, was Lifting the Lamp: Academic Integrity on the Community College Campus. Fortunately, my editor, Deanna D’Errico of the Community College Press, who is smarter and more diplomatic than me, suggested that my working title might be — how did she put it? — a little bit obscure.
I tried to reassure her that the title conjured up the image of Diogenes, which everyone knew as the symbol of honesty. I even threw the “back story” at her, replete with references to the lamp, trying to convince her of my point when, in fact, all I accomplished was to convince her that I was a bigger literary dweeb than she fi rst had suspected. We came upon a title that we both could both live with — and, in retrospect, she was right. But it was in the writing of the book that I rediscovered Diogenes in the data.
Amid the sobering percentages of past academic dishonesty research — much of which indicates that cheating occurs in higher education at levels best described as epidemic — and mining for examples of best practices within community colleges doing visionary work designed to battle dishonesty and prize integrity, a recurring theme seemed to emerge. Not only did it appear that community college students were cheating with less abandon than their four-year student counterparts, but those who chose the honest academic path are righteously indignant. And we are, in some small part, to blame.
More than we, the honest students are all too aware that acts of academic dishonesty are occurring — often all around them.
They choose not to cheat for a variety of reasons: religious or spiritual conviction, karma or an aversion to disciplinary action, fear of being caught, disgust with cheaters or pride in their academic accomplishment.
They want their education to be their own. And they know the minute they share answers on an exam or download a term paper from schoolsucks.com, pride in their achievement is lessened.
But here is the deal: They are indignant because as they are making these choices to be honest, they receive little, if any, affi rmation from the college that their deliberate honesty is of any value to anyone.
To be clear, there are community colleges doing amazing work to promote integrity.
One held an integrity fair. Another held an integrity day where faculty in every class selected a portion of the curriculum to focus on integrity. Others had faculty senates and student governments work together to pass unanimous pledges of integrity.
And as worthy as these activities are, the reality of the matter is that, as an author with a nose for searching and researching, I found only six community colleges engaged in activities that did more than passively defend against dishonesty with the routine variety of policies and procedures promising punishment.
Make no mistake. I would never suggest that policies are not important, especially when it comes to academic dishonesty.
But I would also issue a reminder: There are honest students among us, and because they are honest, we seldom see them — or acknowledge their integrity — with anything remotely resembling an organizational focus on dishonesty.
And we can do something about that, as those community colleges mentioned earlier have taught us. It is within our capabilities to do more than defend against dishonesty; we must prize integrity by deliberately developing proactive, innovative and inclusive strategies to reinforce the behaviors of the honest students.
Tell me: Is Diogenes on your campus? D — Dr. Karén Clos Bleeker is president of the Community College of Denver. The forum is sponsored in partnership with the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) at The University of Texas at Austin.
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