When We Don’t Report Misconduct

Many of us have experienced the following situation. A student is in your office because he or she has plagiarized or cheated. The student may be crying or angry, and you’re trying to express your expectations and yourself clearly. Let’s be honest: it’s uncomfortable.

You want to hold the student accountable. After all, they’ve cheated in your class. At the same time, you think back to the qualities of the teachers you hated and swore you would never adopt: absolutist, punitive, and close-minded to name a few. The student swears that this lapse only happened because they were tired, overwhelmed, or managing stress at home. It will never, they conclude, happen again. You assign your grading penalty, and in your best firm, but caring voice say, “Make sure that it is the last time.”

When I was a tenured English professor, this is exactly what I did. I reasoned that it was better to handle it within my course than it was to involve some mysterious Student Conduct process that I didn’t understand and potentially saddle the student with a mark that would forever stain their transcript. I was wrong.

Since joining CSU, I see things differently now.  I’ve learned that I saw only half of the chess board, so to speak. Documenting the incident is an extremely important tool in addressing academic misconduct and the behaviors underlying it. This is the important role the Student Resolution Center serves. The office maintains records from incidents that occur across our campus and is able to see trends and contexts we couldn’t expect any faculty member to see from their vantage point. As much as we would like to believe a student when they say that this was their first incident and it will be their last, experience tells us that they could be lying.  Unfortunately, I saw this play out in a CSU department last year. A student convinced multiple faculty members, in the same department, that he had never cheated and would never do so again. Each faculty member gave him the talk, tucked the incident away in their desks, and then had no idea that this student had done the same thing multiple times. The student was eventually suspended, but we could have addressed the behavior (and turned it around) much sooner if we had been able to intervene.
One final point: every time I decided to assign my grading penalty and not report the incident to the conduct office, I was denying that student his or her right to due process. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, denying the student that right was also providing him or her a clear path to winning a grade appeal.

As incidents crop up this term, please remember that you aren’t ruining the student’s life and you also aren’t doing them any favors by not reporting. Instead, reporting the incident is the healthiest, most efficient way to addressing the problem and setting the student on the right path.

Photograph courtesy of University Historic Photograph Collection, CSU.

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