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Virginia Tech's Board of Visitors approves revisions to Undergraduate Honor Code

March 23, 2016

Student project in class

The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors approved changes to the Undergraduate Honor Code, that will emphasize academic integrity as a learning process, not just as a system of punishment for violations.

Virginia Tech has a long history of commitment to academic integrity, with the formation of an Honor System more than a century ago in 1908. The approved revisions advance the Honor Code to be consistent with modern practices that cultivate a culture of academic integrity, promote fairness to students and engage students and faculty as partners to resolve cases of alleged academic misconduct.

Some of the major changes include the Office of Undergraduate Academic Integrity taking a more proactive approach to prevent academic misconduct, including education of what counts as a violation and ways to avoid slip-ups. The Honor System will have an enhanced role at New Student Orientation, will build modules that faculty can use as a resource in their courses, and will hold events and outreach on campus.

In addition, faculty and students will have a new option to resolve a case. Under the current code, a full panel reviews all possible violations. Under the new code, for the first violation, faculty and students have the option to discuss the allegations with an Honors System representative.

“I particularly like the introduction of the faculty – student resolution process, which will allow professors and students to work together directly to solve instances of alleged misconduct,” said Ian Van Pelt of Centreville, Virginia, associate chief justice of the Undergraduate Honor System and a senior majoring in microbiology in the College of Science. “I think this will ultimately lead to greater understanding and more appropriate and acceptable outcomes for both parties involved."

If a resolution is found in the faculty-student meeting, there is no need for a full panel hearing. These meetings will leverage alleged academic misconduct violations as teachable moments.

“Our goal with the revisions was to change the system from one that felt like a legal process, where the student committed a crime and needed to be punished, to a learning process,” said James Earl Orr, Jr., assistant provost and director of the Office of Undergraduate Academic Integrity. “Our first goal is to educate students before any violations occur so they understand the expectations and why academic integrity is so important. Second, if a misstep occurs, we want faculty to engage in the process and use it as an educational, teachable moment for our students, where students are held accountable without feeling like they are being put on trial.”

In addition to be a learner-centered process, the new measures will speed case resolution, to focus on prevention. “With this new system, the faculty member and student will see the results of their cases in a much faster time frame. That gives our student leaders and staff more time to focus on educational interventions,” said Antonia Myers-Burton of Leesburg, Virginia, a chief justice of the Undergraduate Honor System and a senior triple majoring in psychology in the College of Science as well as sociology and criminology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. “We are currently working on a pre-and post-violation educational module in the hope that they will prevent students from receiving Honor Code violations in the first place, better educating student on how to prevent a future violation.”

“James and the revision committee worked closely and diligently with the Faculty Senate to address concerns expressed by the faculty,” said Rami Dalloul, president of the Virginia Tech Faculty Senate and associate professor of animal and poultry sciences. “As a result of timely and effective communication, numerous changes were incorporated into the policy and accompanying manual to accommodate faculty concerns. This process culminated in much improved documents that will serve the students, faculty, and the university well for future generations.”

The committee also updated the Honor Code Manual, which is a resource for students and faculty. The old manual included definitions of ways to violate the Honor Code. The new manual adds examples to the definitions, to make it easier for students to understand various ways things like cheating, plagiarism, and falsification occur.

With the enhanced focus on prevention of academic misconduct, the Honor Code’s sanctions were raised to signify the value Virginia Tech places on academic integrity. The Undergraduate Honor code will offer a new sanction, the academic integrity program, which will be a combination of in-person and online education for those found responsible for a honor code violation.

 “We want students to understand the expectations that we have from them in regards to academic integrity during their time here, but also why we hold those values as an institution. If academic integrity isn’t upheld, the value of your Virginia Tech degree will suffer,” said Orr. “Beyond that, we believe building a solid foundation in academic integrity will serve our students beyond their time here at Virginia Tech, as students elsewhere or on the job. The Honor Code is really about promoting a community of trust to assist students in being individuals of integrity and honesty so that they can continue to invent the future.”

The revised Honor Code Policy and Honor Code Manual will be available on the Office of Undergraduate Academic Integrity website and will be implemented in fall 2016.

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