Charles is a single dad who has worked as an ED nurse for 15 years. He is enrolled part time in an online acute-care nurse practitioner program. Charles finds it difficult to keep up with all his responsibilities even with just taking one or two courses a semester. When he comes to campus for the first on-campus intensive, he shares his struggles with his classmates. One takes him aside later and offers a survival tip. “Some of the faculty keeps the same assignments every semester. If you can find a buddy or two in the cohort before you, they might be willing to share some of their successfully graded assignments. Just make sure you have different section faculty,” the classmate told him.
“A riskier strategy is to find a buddy in your own cohort and divide up assignments if you are in different sections. That way you can both turn in the same assignment to different faculty.”
Charles knows this is cheating, but he is strongly tempted. Desperate times call for desperate measures, no? Charles makes a deal with a classmate and they both turn in the same assignment Charles wrote to two different faculty. The plan is for Charles’ classmate to do the next assignment, which they also both will submit.
By some quirk of fate they are caught. Both plead extenuating circumstances and make an excellent case for how important it is for them to remain in the program, promising, “We’ve learned our lesson; this will never happen again.” How should the faculty respond? Should both be warned and given another chance? Should their misconduct be reported? Should they be treated the same?
Guidance from the ANA Code of Ethics
Provision 5 of the ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses makes clear that “the nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to promote health and safety, preserve wholeness of character and integrity, maintain competence, and continue personal and professional growth (p. 19).” Furthermore, “Personal integrity is an aspect of wholeness of character that requires reflection and discernment; its maintenance is a self-regarding duty (p. 20).”
The International Center for Academic Integrity (2013) “defines academic integrity as a commitment, even in face of adversity, to six fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage. Honesty is an indispensable foundation of teaching, learning, research, and service, and a necessary prerequisite for full realization of trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility.”
Charles and his partner clearly violated the university’s academic integrity policy, which is articulated in the graduate student handbook. The handbook states that all cases of alleged academic misconduct by students be adjudicated by the dean of the graduate school who appoints a committee to investigate the charge. If the committee determines that the facts as alleged could constitute a violation of the standards of academic integrity, the committee begins an investigation, which could result in sanctions including suspension or dismissal for academic misconduct. Both faculty members deeply regret making this report but believe a review by an impartial panel is most likely to achieve the aims of maintaining university and professional standards and ensuring that the students are treated fairly. The intent of this review is not punitive, but rather that students learn the values of honesty and integrity by going through the process of adjudication. The faculty hopes sanctions will be lenient.
Charles’ faculty member also is a single parent and closely identifies with Charles’ struggles. She understands she is required to report this instance of possible academic misconduct but believes both students have learned their lesson. She persuades her faculty colleague to give the students a warning and a second chance. While this response is understandable it is ethically problematic because it communicates to the students that integrity can be sacrificed for personal gain, which sets a dangerous precedent as the students transition into their advanced practice responsibilities. Should the students talk about her compassion and other faculty learn about this decision, there could be repercussions for both faculty members.