Ever wondered what actually happens if you get caught cheating on a test?
Do you skip over the academic integrity section in the syllabus? Zone out when the professor goes over it on the first day of a new course?
Of course you do. You’re a person.
“It’ll never concern me much,” I figure. “So long as I don’t copy and paste my essay from Wikipedia. Or sneak a cheat sheet into an exam on the bottom of my shoe.”
It could happen to you.
Most students will never find themselves across from an academic misconduct officer.
But what is the experience like for those who do violate cheating or plagiarism policies?
As a longtime goody-two-shoes who wouldn’t dare break the cardinal rule of school, I was full of questions:
→ Do cheaters get exposed in the middle of class and sent to a principal’s office of sorts?
→ Or do they get a heart-stopping We Know What You Did Last Summer-type phone call from their Dean?
A chat with Ryerson University’s Academic Integrity Office director, John Paul Foxe, provides some answers.
Academic misconduct takes many forms.
Being caught goes down in one of two contexts: in the act or after-the-fact.
In the act.
In an exam situation, a proctor could catch onto the fishy way you keep fidgeting with your student ID.
They would approach you and have you hand it over.
If there are indeed answers all over the back, they take it away.
They file a report right then, detailing exactly what happened.
It might read like a diary entry: “At x time, I noticed y behaviour from the student. I approached them and asked to see what I suspected to be an unauthorized aid. I discovered z.”
“They would use their best judgement to have a discreet conversation,” explains Foxe. “They won’t call the student out in front of everyone nor will they draw attention to what is happening.”
You will be able to finish your exam. Because, at that point, you are only under suspicion of having engaged in academic misconduct.
It is your professor’s decision whether or not they bring that suspicion forward. If they choose to do so, a confidential email letter from your school’s academic integrity office is on its way.
Say your prof suspects you of plagiarism or misrepresentation (by submitting a stolen or purchased essay). If that’s the case, a message appears in your inbox without a heads up.
It’s not the slasher horror film nonsense I was thinking of.
It simply says your teacher wants to meet with you to discuss a suspicion of academic misconduct.
It’ll describe that what you handed in failed its TurnItIn similarity report. Or was flagged for being identical to another student’s paper.
The email will also contain information about the decision-making process and available resources to help you through the meeting.
Depending on your school’s protocol, this meeting could be facilitated by someone from the academic integrity office.
If so, they take notes and answer any policy-related questions.
A member of your students’ union can often attend as an advocate. They can help you get ready beforehand. But they (as well as a support person if you choose to bring one along) cannot speak on your behalf.
During the meeting, your professor (or whoever is acting as the decision-maker per your school’s procedure) will detail the basis of their suspicion.
Yet again, they will refer to evidence and ask you questions.
“These meetings are non-confrontation, non-accusatory in nature and no decisions are to be made until after,” insists Foxe.
Every student has a fair shot to respond to concerns and explain themselves. From start to end, this worse-date-ever is approximately 30 minutes long.
If you stand your teacher up, though, they’ll move into the next phase. Which is reaching a verdict—without having heard your side of the story.
Within a week of the meeting. you’ll receive an email outlining whether or not there has been a finding of academic misconduct.
If they decide you did in fact cheat or plagiarize, you will face a penalty. And an in-erasable Disciplinary Notice will be on your record.
There’s no one-size fits all punishment, of course.
Outcomes will vary based on your offence, level of study, history of academic misconduct, whether or not you accept the finding, etc.
At best, your would-have-been A+ on that particular piece of work is reduced a letter grade or two.
You might also have to complete a quiz on your school’s academic integrity policy and attend a workshop on ethical scholarship.
At worst, you could receive a “Fail” in the class. In extreme cases, you’ll face expulsion or have your degree revoked if caught after graduation.
“It’s important to understand that education is the guiding principle of [academic integrity] policy and that we want students to understand what misconduct is, what it’s not and why they shouldn’t engage in it,” reasons Foxe.
You really need me to wrap the sentiment of this blog up into a pretty bow for you?
People who have—like these University of Windsor students who shared their sad, cringe-worthy and downright devastating personal stories of how committing academic misconduct derailed their academic and professional careers—are beyond regretful.
Student life is freakin’ hard sometimes. We all face temptation to take shortcuts.
But desperate times don’t always call for desperate measures. If you’re struggling with your grades, we’ve created guides to help.
There’s even one if you’ve been failing all your tests.
If you’re not getting through postsecondary school on your own merit, you aren’t really getting an education.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.