Academic penalty sanctions guidelines

from the College Policy on Intellectual Integrity

The State University of New York at Oswego is committed to maintaining rigorous intellectual standards and the highest level of academic integrity. The production of original work by all members of the college community is an essential component of the educational experience of students. Faculty and professional staff as leaders and role models must adhere to the highest standards of academic honesty in scholarship and professional practice. Students' work must be the product of individual effort and an unambiguous reflection of the mastery of required knowledge and skills mandated within a program of study.

The college recognizes that promoting intellectual integrity in higher education is a multifaceted process. A learning climate where honest behavior is fostered by the formal and informal conventions of the institution is foundational. Students are made ready for the demands of citizenship and the assumption of roles of responsibility within the larger community by assuming personal responsibility and accepting accountability for their actions while still citizens of the more restricted, but no less demanding, community of scholars. We seek to build character not merely prescriptively but by providing students the opportunity to authentically practice intellectual honesty like the many other behaviors that are mastered here.

The pursuit of academic honesty can be organized around three guiding principles. First, all members of the college community should be held to the highest standards of honesty and personal responsibility. Secondly, the expectations for intellectual integrity should be clearly articulated, as should the consequences for violation of these standards. Finally, all members of the college community are entitled to due process when the honesty of their intellectual efforts or products is called into question.

Sanction guidelines and examples

Four levels of non-compliance with SUNY Oswego's intellectual integrity standards are categorized below. Descriptions are not to be considered comprehensive, but merely illustrative.

Level 0 - These are trivial errors that might occur as a student is developing mastery of new skills. For example, students will likely make errors in citation while mastering the intricacies of a new format. These are instances that might be mistaken for academic dishonesty but which are simply mistakes on the part of the student. A Level 0 incident provides an opportunity for the instructor to engage in educational outreach.

Level 1 - Like Level 0 incidents, these incidents are typically characterized by unintentional error, though they may reflect, for example, a more serious misunderstanding of citation and its purposes. Examples of incidents at this level include editorial errors, incomplete quotations, references not cited in the text (forgot to include citation but reference is provided as opposed to reference padding), failure to properly divide contributions to group work, etc.
Level 2 - These incidents may be characterized by poor, perhaps spontaneous, decision making. The student's actions were likely intentional - they probably understood that they'd done something generally regarded as inappropriate - though they may not have recognized the seriousness of their actions or how to finish their assigned work in ways the academic community would regard as honest and appropriate. The result of the actions, however, was to deceive the instructor as to their work. Examples of incidents at this level include feigning illness to avoid an exam, giving aid in quizzes, exams, writing papers, or other homework without specific permission to do so, seeking and receiving such aid, submitting work completed in one course to satisfy an assignment in another course, two students sharing research on a single topic to complete individual assignments in different courses, minor plagiarism (one or two short excerpts of improperly cited material), etc.

Level 3 - These incidents are characterized by intentional dishonesty. Examples of incidents at this level include purchasing/downloading a paper to be submitted, selling or providing such a paper, taking or having someone take an exam in one's place, the use of crib notes or other means of cheating on a quiz or exam, stealing, buying or using a stolen copy of an exam, sabotaging someone else's work, altering/forging college documents or identities, major plagiarism (multiple or lengthy excerpts of improperly cited material), etc.

Saction guidelines

Current college policy allows a faculty member the OPTION to assign an academic penalty (ranging from no penalty to failure for the course) or filing judicial charges. The following guidelines pertain to the academic penalty option only. Judicial options are discussed elsewhere.

Not all incidents of dishonesty deserve the imposition of the most extreme penalties. We recommend that faculty consider the following guidelines when evaluating how to best address an incident of dishonesty that they've encountered.

In the current Intellectual Integrity policy, instructors are required to meet with students:

"Students suspected of intellectual dishonesty shall be so informed and are entitled to an opportunity to reveal their understanding of cheating/plagiarism in a private discussion with the course instructor prior to the assessment of any penalty."

These discussions will shed light on the actions of the student and clarify the understanding of the incident by the instructor. In many instances instructors have found these discussions to fundamentally change their perception of the student's actions and only then can an instructor decide upon an appropriate penalty.

Level 0 incidents do not need to be reported.

Level 1 incidents need not be reported, except where faculty members encounter persistent occurrences of Level 1 behavior in their work with a given student.

Incidents at Levels 2 and 3 are considered acts of dishonesty and must be reported, per college policy.

Level 1 incidents would earn minimal penalties, if any are applied. These incidents provide additional opportunities for faculty to engage in educational outreach. For example, an error in citation could lead to a refresher on proper citation with no academic penalty assigned. Faculty might decide to provide students an opportunity to resubmit work with no or minimal penalty (10% reduction in grade). For those incidents deemed to be borderline to the Level 2 category, instructors might assign a zero for the assignment, split the grade between two or more students, or otherwise assign an academic penalty that does not, in and of itself, prevent a student from ultimately passing the course with a grade of "C-" or higher though it might, in and of itself, preclude a student from being able to obtain an "A" grade for the course.

Perhaps the most difficult decision that faculty must make is to distinguish between Level 0 and Level 1 incidents. Was the incident in question a function of lack of mastery or was the student sloppy in their work? Per the college policy, "...intellectual carelessness, which, while not intentionally deceptive, has the same outcome and may be treated as academic dishonesty." Whatever the final determination, the incident provides the faculty member with an educational opportunity. 

Level 2 incidents would earn more significant penalties. Students might reasonably earn a zero on an exam or assignment or even a "negative" perfect score. Reasonable penalties include the requirement of additional or "replacement" work where such work would not earn more than the equivalent of a "C" grade. For those incidents deemed to be borderline to the Level 3 category, instructors might choose to assign a failing (or unsatisfactory, if appropriate) grade for the course. Students found to have engaged in such dishonesty should expect that earning a passing grade in the course difficult, passing the course with a "C-" or better grade unlikely. Poor decision making on the part of a student, regardless of the reasons for such decisions, does not relieve the student of the consequences of those decisions.

Level 3 incidents deserve the most severe academic penalties. In this case, faculty might assign an "E" for the course regardless of the quality of the grades earned in the course up to the point of the incident of dishonesty. The most egregious incidents should prompt the instructor to consider filing judicial charges rather than assigning an academic penalty.

Repeated misconduct

Under current college policy, the Deans are responsible for making a decision regarding judicial charges when a student has been found to engage in repeated misconduct.

For a student found to have engaged in two incidents that fit the Level 1 category, the Dean might choose to invite the student to meet to discuss their understanding of intellectual integrity. Intellectual carelessness does not exempt students from consequences, though two trivial lapses might not warrant judicial charges. If a third Level 1 incident is reported, the Dean should consider filing judicial charges with a recommendation of suspension from the college.

For a student found to have engaged in multiple incidents where at least one is Level 3, the Dean should consider filing charges with a recommendation of expulsion. For multiple incidents at the Level 2 level, the Dean should consider filing charges with a recommedation of suspension.

For a student found to have engaged in a Level 2 incident, and then subsequently a Level 1 incident, the Dean might choose to meet with the student, or the filing of charges with a recommendation of suspension, as appropriate based on the specifics of the incidents.