Honor Code

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The SPSU Honor Code and Standards of Academic Conduct

Bob Brown
School of Computing and Software Engineering
Southern Polytechnic State University
Copyright © 2010

The Honor Code

SPSU's Honor Code was written by SPSU students and adopted by the Student Government Association on August 24, 2010. It was affirmed by the faculty on September 30, 2010. Although the Honor Code was written by and for students, the faculty voted, at their October 28, 2010 meeting, also to subscribe to the Honor Code. So, every faculty member and student makes this promise to ourselves and our colleagues:

As a member of the Southern Polytechnic State University community of scholars, I understand that my actions are not only a reflection on myself, but also a reflection on the University and the larger body of scholars of which it is a part. Acting unethically, no matter how minor the offense, will be detrimental to my academic progress and self-image. It will also adversely affect all students, faculty, staff, the reputation of this University, and the value of the degrees it awards. Whether on campus or online, I understand that it is not only my personal responsibility, but also a duty to the entire SPSU community that I act in a manner consistent with the highest level of academic integrity. Therefore, I promise that as a member of the Southern Polytechnic State University community, I will not participate in any form of academic misconduct. I also understand that it is my responsibility to hold others to these same standards by addressing actions that deviate from the University-wide commitment to working, living, and learning in an environment conducive to a quality education. Thus, I affirm and adopt this honor code of Southern Polytechnic State University.

Every word of the honor code is important, but here are some key points:

  • My conduct reflects on the entire University.
  • My conduct affects my academic progress.
  • My conduct affects the value of the degrees we award.
  • I promise not to engage in any form of academic misconduct.
  • I promise to address misconduct on the part of others.

How the Faculty Feel

As you read through this material, you may get the idea that the members of the faculty spend their time looking for evidence of dishonesty so that they can "nail" students. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, faculty don't have to look very hard to identify dishonesty. It leaps off the page at us. Second, the general reaction upon uncovering a dishonest act by a student is sadness and disappointment. The members of the faculty want each and every one of you to succeed, and we know that you have the intellectual capacity to succeed. We are disappointed when you try to cut corners. Dealing with academic misconduct is one of the most difficult and unpleasant things we do. Yet, it is necessary in order to uphold the reputation of the university.

You have the intellectual capacity to succeed here at Southern Polytechnic State University. It is up to you to apply the hard work and discipline to succeed, and we have every confidence that you will do so.

Understanding the Rules of Academic Conduct

It is important that each of you understand the rules of academic conduct because universities, including this one, take the subject very seriously. The December 17, 1999, issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the head of Boston University's Department of Mass Communication resigned after mistakenly failing to give credit for a quotation used in a speech. It was clear from the circumstances that this was an accident. The department head was rushed to finish the speech and failed to provide a citation for his quotation. However, the rules of academic conduct don't say anything about accidents, and this accident cost a department head his job.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that such things only happen far away. Here at SPSU a number of years ago, a student only a few days from graduating turned in a plagiarized term paper. Instead of receiving a master's degree with his classmates, he was dismissed from school. This student will never receive a master's degree from a reputable institution, never hold a security clearance, and may probably never hold a job requiring trust. His life has been changed, permanently and for the worse. You want to avoid that!

You may think the rules of academic conduct are harsh. The rules really emphasize that professionals are expected to uphold the highest standards. Think about seeing a doctor who cheated in medical school or flying on an airplane designed by someone who cheated on the professional engineer's examination.

Offenses Against Academic Conduct

There are several areas where you could go wrong. Let's talk about each one of them:

  • Plagiarism is the use of the words or ideas of others without giving proper credit. Avoid plagiarism by providing a citation every time you use the words or ideas of someone else. If you use an exact quotation, surround it with quotation marks.
  • Fabrication and falsification include inventing experimental data or changing experimental data so that they tend to support your thesis, inventing references, or falsely attributing statements to others.
  • Reference padding is the act of listing references you haven't actually read, either to meet a minimum imposed by the professor or to make it look like you did more work than you actually did.
  • Cheating is giving or receiving unauthorized help on academic work, or obtaining unauthorized access to examinations or other academic material. Here at Southern Polytechnic, giving unauthorized help is considered as serious an offense as receiving it.
  • Collaborative work beyond collaboration allowed by the assignment: In some cases you will be encouraged to work together, but in others your professor will ask each of you do do your own work on assignments. You must do your own work when the assignment requires it.
  • Other academic misconduct includes destruction, mutilation, or theft of resources such as library books or laboratory equipment, alteration or falsification of records, acts that undermine or interfere with the free exchange of ideas, and acts that interfere with the impartial evaluation of students' academic progress.

Some of you are wondering why we take our standards of academic conduct so seriously here at Southern Polytechnic. A few of you may even be rationalizing that no one is hurt by dishonesty. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you cheat, you cheat yourself of a part of your education, and of some of the money you or others are paying for that education. You cheat your colleagues of a fair comparison with their peers. You set a bad example for your peers and the students who follow you. You diminish your own reputation in the eyes of your colleagues. Finally, and most important, you damage the reputation of the university, and so diminish the value of your diploma. No one wants a degree from an institution that has the reputation of tolerating cheating, and no one wants to hire a person with such a degree. Misconduct while you are in school will hurt you for the rest of your life.

The Consequences of Misconduct at SPSU

If you are believed to have committed academic misconduct at SPSU, your professor will arrange a conference with you. Your professor will say why you are thought to have committed misconduct, and will give you an opportunity to explain yourself. If, after hearing what you have to say, the professor still believes misconduct has occurred, you will be given a form, Allegation of Academic Misconduct, in which the professor spells out what happened and proposes a penalty. You will have three working days to consider the professor's allegation and proposed penalty. During that time, you may consult with anyone whom you choose.

At the end of three working days you will have another conference with the professor. At that time, you will have four choices:

  • Sign the form admitting to the offense and accepting the proposed penalty. (Later the department head will check whether you have a previous record of academic misconduct. If so, the penalty may be increased.)
  • Appeal to the department chair, dean, and finally to the Honor Council on the basis of innocence.
  • Only if the proposed penalty exceeds the University's published guidelines, you may admit the offense but appeal, beginning with the department chair, that the penalty is too harsh.
  • You can refuse to sign the form, in which case the proposed penalty (or a harsher penalty if you have a previous record of academic misconduct) will be imposed. In addition, if you refuse to sign, you may not later petition to have the record of misconduct expunged.

If you admit to academic misconduct, or are found to have committed academic misconduct, an academic penalty will be imposed. The penalty can range from lowering a grade on an assignment to expulsion from the University. The Honor Council can also impose non-academic penalties, such as community service. In addition, a permanent record of the misconduct becomes part of your academic record, and you will be barred from earning an honors predicate on your diploma.

The record of misconduct will not appear on your transcript, but will be included any time your complete academic record is released. That will happen with some security clearance investigations and some other types of background checks and certain legal processes. Other schools to which you may apply can also request your full academic record. What this means is that a record of misconduct can follow you for your entire life.

The Honor Council

The SPSU Honor Council is chaired by the Dean of Students and consists of three students selected by the Student Government Association and three faculty members elected from the faculty at large. When an allegation of misconduct by a student is brought to the Honor Council, the Honor Council hears the evidence, makes determinations of fact, and imposes penalties.

In making determinations of fact, the Honor Council will weigh the strength of the evidence on both sides of the case. The decision of the Honor Council is final with respect to determination of fact.

In setting a penalty, the Honor Council will take into consideration the seriousness of the allegation, the strength of the evidence, and whether a previous record of misconduct exists. The decision of the Honor Council is final with respect to penalties except in cases of expulsion. A decision to expel may be appealed to the Vice President for Academic Affairs.


A student who has only a single incident of misconduct on record may petition to have the record expunged at graduation or upon academic renewal. That option is not available to students with two or more incidents on record, nor is it available to students who refuse to sign the Allegation of Academic Misconduct form. Expungement is not automatic; every petition will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

A student whose record of misconduct has been expunged is still obligated to self-report the misconduct when applying for a security clearance or similar position requiring trust. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for background investigators to interview faculty, and professors will tell the truth when asked about incidents of misconduct.

About Addressing Misconduct on the Part of Others

When you subscribe to the Honor Code, you promise to "address" misconduct on the part of others. Students are far more likely to become aware of misconduct than are professors. Because misconduct by others affects the value of your degree, you have a duty to yourself as well as to the University to address misconduct.

If you observe misconduct by another, you have several options:

  • Talk with the person suspected of misconduct. Say something like, "I saw what you did and I don't like it."
  • Talk with your professor.
  • Talk with your advisor, the department head, the dean, or another faculty member.
  • Initiate a charge to the Honor Council.

The first choice, talking with the other student, is likely the most difficult, but it is also likely to be the most effective in preventing future misconduct.

If you observe misconduct taking place, such as a student cheating on a test, and you intend to talk with the professor, do so immediately. That will allow the professor to gather tangible evidence of the misconduct. If you wait, it may be too late.

Finally, you have the option of making a charge of misconduct directly to the Honor Council. In that case, the Honor Council will make a determination of fact and, if appropriate, set a penalty. To pursue this course, contact the Dean of Students.

The Road to Academic Success

Here are four rules for avoiding academic misconduct and following the road to academic success:

  • Avoid procrastination. Lack of time increases the temptation to commit academic misconduct. If you find yourself in the last week of the semester with no start on your term paper, you may be tempted to plagiarize, or even to buy a paper. In the hours before an exam for which you aren't prepared, you may consider cheating. However, if you keep up with your work, you will be prepared for the "crisis points" in your courses and there will be no need to cheat.
  • Understand the policies of the university, your school and department, and your classes. As with any endeavor, it's hard to avoid breaking the rules if you don't understand them. The University rules are spelled out in the official catalog. School, department and class policies will be in a syllabus, or explained by your professors early in the term. If you are not sure, ask. No one will think less of you for asking about a particular rule or policy, but a misunderstanding could end your academic career.
  • Reduce temptation. During examinations, put notes and books away, not only out of your own sight, but out of sight of your colleagues as well. Don't look at the work of others or allow others to look at your work. Except during examinations, most of your professors will encourage you to work with your classmates. Know what the policies are and don't stray near the boundaries.
  • If you're not sure, try the "parent test." If you are not certain whether a particular act is honest, ask yourself, "Would I want my parents to know I did this?"

About Plagiarism

"If I have seen farther than other men, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." 

This quotation, attributed variously to Sir Isaac Newton and Bernard of Chartres, exemplifies two principles of scientific progress—first, it is appropriate to build upon the work of others, and second, you must give appropriate credit when you do so.

Plagiarism is using the works or ideas of another without giving proper credit. The definition is a simple one, and plagiarism is easy to avoid. Avoid plagiarism by being careful to use quotation marks every time you quote the words of another. Cite every reference to other work, whether quoted or paraphrased.

Every reference to the work of another must be cited in the paper, and every citation must refer to a bibliography entry containing enough information to enable someone else to find the work to which you have referred. There is an example of proper writing and citation on line to give you some guidance.

Sometimes beginning university students believe they're supposed to "know the material" and in trying to show that they do, they may slip into plagiarism. Not only is omitting a citation plagiarism, it is likely to lower your grade even if the professor doesn't notice the omission. Here's why: although faculty do not expect you to know everything, we do expect learning. Some of that learning will come from studying the work of others; standing "on the shoulders of giants." When you cite others' work, you demonstrate to your professors that you are learning. So, the more citations in a paper, the more likely it is to earn a good grade.

Similarly, your professors would like to see you paraphrase rather than quote. When you paraphrase the words of another, you show that they went through your brain, not just through your mouse! (Even when you paraphrase, you still need to cite.)

With two exceptions, you do not need to provide citations for well-known facts. Well-known facts are those you can recall without a source and can find in essentially the same form in at least three different sources. This rule applies to facts, not ideas or opinions. If you are giving your own opinion, say so. If you are giving another's, provide a citation.

One exception to the rule above is that you should provide citations for facts from other disciplines even if they are well known within that discipline. The purpose of such a citation is to help the reader, who may be an expert in the primary field of your paper, but may not be familiar with the other discipline. For example, suppose you were writing a paper on computer control of a nuclear reactor. You might write, "... radioactive decay is Poisson distributed but may be approximated with a Gaussian distribution for high decay rates. (Johns, 1969)." This is a well-known fact to radiation physicists, but it is arcane material for most computer scientists, and so requires a citation. The reference entry would be:

Johns, H. E. and J.R. Cunningham (1969). The Physics of Radiology, Charles C. Thomas, Publisher, page 542.

The other exception is that some professors may require citation of every fact given in your paper. If it's a requirement of the assignment, you have to do it!

When you do research, you must describe it. You can't just say, "43% of households have computers." If you obtained this number from another source, you would cite the source. If, however, you polled your classmates to find out how many had computers at home, you must describe how you selected your subjects and how you conducted your poll. It would be sufficient to say, "I conducted a poll of 100 randomly-selected SPSU students. Of those polled, 43% reported having computers in their households."

Buying or Borrowing Papers

At some point every one of you will have an opportunity to "borrow" a paper from another student or to buy a paper that you then present as your own. There are even Internet sites that specialize in helping students cheat in this way. Consider that the people who do this are themselves liars and cheats. What makes you think they won't cheat you? A few years ago a student here at SPSU submitted a paper that turned out to be a verbatim copy of a chapter from his professor's master's thesis. Imagine that student's surprise when he was confronted with the original! He was dismissed from school and his appeal to be readmitted was denied.

How Students Get Caught

Some of you may be thinking that you're clever enough to cheat or plagiarize without getting caught. The likelihood that you can get away with academic dishonesty at SPSU is smaller than you think. Consider the following things:

  • The human brain is an excellent pattern recognizer. It's easy for someone reading a paper to say, "hmmm... I've seen that somewhere before." That's all it takes! Once the pattern has been identified, finding the source is generally easy.
  • Your professors are experts in their field. Work that may seem obscure to you is likely to be very familiar to your professors. Until you are an expert in the field, it will be very difficult for you to know what is obscure and what is widely read.
  • Your professors know your writing style. By the end of a term, your professors will have been exposed to your writing in homework, labs, and examinations. They'll recognize your individual writing style, and they'll note a departure from it if they find one in an examination answer or a paper.
  • Your colleagues have pledged to address misconduct on the part of others. If you commit an act of academic misconduct, it is highly likely that one of your fellow students will become aware of it and take action to address it.
  • Your colleagues are writing on the same subject. You aren't the only person in your class answering the exam questions and writing papers. Your colleagues are writing on the same subject, and generally with access to the same references. If a classmate cites something appropriately, your un-cited use of the same material will stand out like a sore thumb.
  • If you get away with it, you will become more aggressive. Suppose you fall prey to temptation and plagiarize a paragraph or two from an obscure text. Possibly you even get away with it. If you do, you'll be tempted to go further the next time. Eventually you'll be caught, and it is possible that the circumstances will be so egregious that you will be dismissed from school.


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Copyright © 2010 by Bob Brown. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Originally published: 2004-08-18
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