In academic misconduct cases, faculty, students must follow procedure

Posted September 14, 2015

UW-River Falls is among many schools in the UW System that are taking time to clarify the procedure in cases of academic misconduct.

Thomas Pedersen, director of the Office of Student Conduct & Community Standards, sees a number of different cases every year of misconduct on campus.

“The predominant cases that I see are failure to cite things in your paper, just straight cheating on an exam or test, collaborating with someone you’re not supposed to collaborate with, or turning in a paper that somebody else wrote,” he said.

Wisconsin’s administrative code governing the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents describes the process faculty and staff must follow when they suspect academic misconduct, and what protection the student has.

“The faculty member has to be the one that either suspects or sees [academic] misconduct,” Pedersen said. “They have to offer the student a meeting or an opportunity to discuss what took place.”

Students are given the right to meet with the professor, however they can waive their right to this meeting. The student’s disciplinary sanctions are directly related to the response given at this meeting.

If a student chooses not to meet with the professor, Pedersen said, “then the faculty member will just make a decision based on what (facts) they have at that time.”

Once the student has been given a chance to explain themselves, it is up to the faculty member to decide if a violation has occurred. If there was a violation, then they decide what the proper sanctions would be.

In some cases, it ends with this meeting. The sanction chosen by the professor in this cases could be an oral or written reprimand, or the student would be given an assignment to repeat the work. No written report is made by the professor in these cases. However, it is also important to note, students can be held responsible for misconduct even if they are unaware that they violated any rules.

A written report of the incident is required when the sanctions imposed by the professor will directly affect the student’s grade or standing in the class.

Usually only in cases of repeat offenders are the most severe sanctions of suspension or expulsion from the university.

The responsibility falls on the faculty to clearly communicate what the academic misconduct policy is in their courses. Pedersen hailed the Communications Studies department at UW-River Falls for clearly defining what misconduct means in its syllabi.

“The only thing we do is we essentially write out the policy really clearly and completely in our COMS 101/116 syllabi,” Professor Jennifer Willis-Rivera said in an email interview, describing two introductory courses. “We focus on those courses because they have such a large number of students.”

Despite students having the right to due process, Pedersen said, “we do not get a lot of requests for hearings.” He said his office received 18 written reports of academic misconducts in the last academic year. Only one of those 18 ended up in a hearing.

Students have the right to a hearing in front of an academic misconduct hearing committee, and full investigation by an investigating officer. This hearing is basically the student’s day in court. Witnesses, testimony, and evidence can be brought forward for the committee to consider. The students can then appeal the decision to the chancellor. The Board of Regents will even hear appeals, at its discretion.