efore midterm season starts winding down – although, let’s be honest, does midterm season ever really end? – it is important to remind ourselves about the vital role of academic integrity in Emory University’s central mission to provide the highest platform for learning. As members of the Committee for Academic Integrity (CAI), a sub-group within the Honor Council, we work to promote academic integrity and further instill it into the fabric of our campus culture.

That being said, perhaps the best place to start in our campaign is to define academic integrity. Academic integrity refers to accurate and honest representation of the origins of an intellectual product. This means all work submitted must be an original production by the owner indicated, and must be produced without any unapproved help from external resources.

While the basic meaning and applications of academic integrity are common knowledge, many people may be surprised to realize that they are somewhat unclear about certain aspects of what constitutes as fair academic practices. Those of us on CAI also found it hard to determine if certain behaviors or actions were allowable, and, to be honest, the conclusion was sometimes “it depends.” For instance, most of us know that looking at another student’s exam while taking a test is cheating; most people also know that copy and pasting items or otherwise labeling others’ ideas as their own is plagiarism. But are we certain we know where to draw the line between studying with classmates and assisting each other on assignments? Or what types of non-class resources are allowed for further research and studying? These answers are less clear, and such vagueness is accentuated by the fact that the line between acceptable and unacceptable can vary from professor to professor.

What we hope to emphasize, therefore, is not a list of rules. A set of definitive rules would be impossible to create because situations and circumstances vary and are unpredictable. Rather, we want to propose a general litmus test in which students can identify when something is acceptable by asking themselves a series of questions: Is this resource available to everyone, or just me? Does this give me an unfair advantage over other students? Would I approve of this if a classmate was the one with this resource and not me? If an answer is still unclear, the safest route would be to ask the professor.

While identification of what upholds academic integrity is important, what is absolutely essential is for honest and fair practices to be applied and internalized. For this to happen, people must be personally driven to act in an honest and fair manner. We recognize that stressful situations may deter one from upholding these values. Therefore, we would like to encourage people to constantly remind themselves of the importance of maintaining and ultimately proponing for academic integrity.

So why should students care about promoting academic integrity?

1. Increase the value of our degrees and maintain Emory’s positive reputation:

Successful completion of a degree at Emory will provide students a wide range of opportunities at companies, graduate schools, and/or other programs. An unfairly gotten degree may be indicative of a potential to fall short of high expectations set by these agencies.

The actions of a few students can therefore mar the reputation of Emory graduates and hurt the chances for other Emory students who apply to the same position or program. This is obviously something we want to avoid since Emory’s reputation and prestige will affect all Emory community members.

2. Ensure fairness to all students:

This idea of fairness is to protect all students. Clearly, students who cheat would affect the above-mentioned integrity of the degree and, in the short-term, the class curve. If you would not want this type of unfairness from your peers, why would you impose it on them?

3. Uphold personal ethics and morals

This is probably the widest-reaching reason in that personal ethics affect all aspects of a person’s life. Upholding virtues and practicing fairness and honesty is a formula for long-term success professionally and personally.

The CAI is committed to engaging the student body in identifying, practicing and promoting actions that reinforce the virtue of academic integrity. Please come meet and talk to us during Wonderful Wednesdays. We also have some more upcoming columns. We look forward to working with everyone to promote academic integrity at Emory University.

Emory’s Committee of Academic Integrity is a subgroup under the Honor Council.