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Addressing Issues of Academic Misconduct for Faculty and Staff

Figuring out what to do when you encounter instances of possible academic misconduct may put you into a challenging and unenviable position. The Office of the University Ombudsperson is a resource for students, as well as faculty or staff members navigating student issues or concerns. While we do not serve as advocates for students or instructors, our job is to advocate for fairness and due process. Students, instructors, or other community members are encouraged to reach out to our office for assistance in understanding policies that govern the academic misconduct process at MSU.

As an instructor, you have an obligation to address any instances of academic misconduct that you encounter. This is a broad term that encompasses everything from cheating on exams to plagiarism in assignments, to unauthorized collaboration among students. While every instance of academic misconduct is different, this page should serve as a resource for how to confront situations as they arise. Feel free to contact our office with specific questions, or to explore options given individual circumstances.

The first step in addressing academic misconduct is to do what you can to prevent it from happening in the first place.

If you believe academic misconduct may have occurred, take the following steps:

Step 1: Take a second to think about how you want to approach the situation, as this will look differently depending on what has occurred. Your response to cheating on an in class exam will look differently than a high Turnitin score.

If you suspect that academic misconduct is occurring during an in class exam, assignment, or lab session, it is important to avoid in-class confrontations, which are apt to disrupt classroom decorum and potentially disrupt other students taking the test. For the same reason, allow the student to complete the exam, and do not ask a student to move to another seat or desk in the classroom. Instead, if you have a proctor, ask them to observe the student. If you don’t have an assistant, document the student’s actions that led you to believe they are engaging in academic misconduct. As an alternative, stand for a short time near the suspect student to stop the perceived behavior. If you observe a student cheating during an exam in class, you should allow the student to finish taking the exam. That way, if the student successfully grieves the cheating allegation, you will be able to grade the exam. Immediately after the test, exam or lab session, ask the student to remain in the classroom to speak to you privately or to visit you during office hours or at a mutually convenient time—the sooner the better.

If the academic misconduct involves plagiarism or other actions that are not occurring in the classroom, invite the student to meet with you in your office at a mutually convenient time. It is best to extend this invitation in person (e.g. before or after class).

Step 2: Meet with the student to discuss the situation. In a non-adversarial tone, explain to the student what you observed and why you suspect the student had cheated. Remember, at this stage of the process, you are seeking information and should not have formed an iron-clad conclusion about the academic misconduct. Leave the door open for the possibility that you might be wrong. Then give the student an opportunity to explain his or her actions.

Students may react differently, but their reaction in itself should not inform your conclusions as to whether or not they have committed academic misconduct. Some students will be completely honest, others may not be. Some students may be confused, or they will need time to reflect upon what had occurred before they are able to engage in a coherent conversation about the issue. When necessary, allow students time to compose themselves, even if that means scheduling a follow up meeting.

Remember, this conversation may be a difficult one for you as well as the student. Treat this conversation with the student as an educational one. As much as possible, approach the student with care and concern. Whether or not they have actually committed academic misconduct, they will likely be terrified.

Step 3: Decide on a course of action. You may need to take some time to weigh the information you have, to consult with a colleague or your department chair, or to consult the Office of the University Ombudsperson. Remember that if this case proceeds to a hearing, the burden of proof is on the instructor to prove that academic misconduct occurred, not on the part of the student to prove innocence.

If after speaking with the student you determine that you do not have enough information to proceed with an allegation of academic misconduct, inform the student of your decision. If you reach this conclusion, there is still opportunity for education on the part of the student.

Step 4: If you decide to proceed with the allegation, you should also inform the student of this decision. As an instructor, you can impose a penalty grade on the assignment or in the course. You can find additional information on penalty grades at the bottom of the page. If you impose a penalty grade, you must also submit an Academic Dishonesty Report (ADR). This can be done by:

  • Go to www.reg.msu.edu
  • Click on Faculty and Staff in the top menu
  • Click on Instructor Systems
  • Scroll down to “Academic Dishonesty” and click on “Academic Dishonesty Report”

The Integrity of Scholarship and Grades policy requires instructors to report all instances of academic misconduct resulting in a penalty grade, by completing the Academic Dishonesty Report form. This policy requires first time offenders to complete an Academic Integrity Education program administered by the Office of the Dean of Students or the Dean of The Graduate School.

Academic Misconduct Penalties: Rationales and Guidelines Document

The student can choose to contest the allegation of academic misconduct. This process can be found here. Students must first attempt to engage with the issue informally through dialogue with the instructor and department head. If the student does not feel as though the issue has been resolved at this point, they can request a hearing before the University Academic Integrity Hearing Board. Instructions for students to request a hearing can be found here: Academic Misconduct Penalties: Rationales and Guidelines Document (.pdf)

Step 5: If an instructor or the Associate Dean of a student’s college believes that sanctions in addition to a penalty grade are necessary (such as dismissal from a unit or program), the Associate Dean of the student’s college may request a hearing with the appropriate hearing board.