Honor System - Interim
- Responsible Office: Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, Division of Student Affairs, Office of the Provost
- Current Approved Version: 08/12/2015
- Policy Type: Administrative
Policy Statement and Purpose
Virginia Commonwealth University (“VCU” or “university”) is committed to: the intellectual and academic success of a diverse student body; research and discovery that advances knowledge, inspires creativity, and improves human health; and the global engagement of students, faculty, and staff that transforms lives and communities. In pursuit of these goals, the university’s core values are accountability, achievement, collaboration, freedom, innovation, service, diversity, and integrity.
VCU recognizes that honesty, truth, and integrity are values central to its mission to advance knowledge and student success both in the world VCU students will enter, or return to, once they have graduated and in the university community as a microcosm of that world. In a community devoted to learning, a foundation of honor must exist if that community is to thrive with respect and harmony. Therefore, all members of the university community must conduct themselves in accordance with the highest standards of academic honesty, ethics, and integrity at all times. Additional standards of academic and professional integrity consistent with this Honor System may apply to students in professional programs.
Because academic dishonesty is a violation of the profound trust of the entire academic community, the Honor System intends to:
- Foster an environment at VCU where academic dishonesty is not tolerated;
- Prevent any student from gaining, or attempting to gain, an unfair advantage over other students through academic misconduct;
- Define what constitutes academic misconduct and what conduct is expected of all members of the university community;
- Cultivate a centralized system of education and awareness of the Honor System; and
- Instill in members of the university community their responsibility for upholding academic integrity by recognizing that:
- There is NO neutral stance when dishonesty occurs;
- Apathy or acquiescence in the presence of academic dishonesty is not a neutral act; o Failure to take action detracts from a community of trust; and
- Knowingly allowing others to represent the work of others as their own is as serious an offense as submitting another’s work as your own.
It is important to report EVERY suspected incident of academic misconduct to ensure consistency across courses and departments, due process rights, appropriate response to repeated academic misconduct, and protection from unfounded allegations of misconduct.
The Honor System prohibits the following acts of academic misconduct as defined below:
The Honor System seeks to end the misconduct in question, prevent a reoccurrence of similar misconduct, and remedy the effects of the misconduct on the university community.
The following pledge applies to EVERY examination, paper, or academic exercise unless specifically exempted by the instructor:
“On my honor, I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment, and I pledge that I am in compliance with the VCU Honor System.”
Neither the presence nor the absence of a signed pledge statement shall exempt a student from the requirements of the Honor System.
Noncompliance with the requirements of the Honor System may result in disciplinary action for students, staff, or faculty, including expulsion or termination. VCU supports an environment free from retaliation. Retaliation against anyone who brings forth a good faith concern, asks a clarifying question, or participates in an investigation is prohibited by VCU policy in accordance with federal and state law.
Who Should Know This Policy
All members of the Virginia Commonwealth University community are responsible for understanding and adhering to the Honor System.
Academic Integrity Administrator
The term “Academic Integrity Administrator” or “Administrator” refers to a university official authorized by the Director of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity or designee, on a case-by-case basis, to administer the Honor System.
Academic Integrity Appeal Board
The term “Academic Integrity Appeal Board” or “Appeal Board” refers to a panel comprised of three Honor Council members – one full-time undergraduate student, one full-time graduate or professional student, and one administrative or instructional faculty member – and authorized by the Director of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity or designee to consider an appeal of a Decision Board’s determination.
Academic Integrity Decision Board
The term “Academic Integrity Decision Board” or “Decision Board” refers to a panel of four Honor Council members – one full-time undergraduate student, one full-time graduate or professional student, one administrative or instructional faculty member, and one non-voting chairperson (selected from any of these groups) authorized by the Director of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity or designee to determine whether a student has violated the Honor System and to recommend appropriate sanctions when a violation has been committed.
Academic Integrity Executive Board
The term “Academic Integrity Executive Board” or “Executive Board” refers to the four graduate or professional students, four undergraduate students, six faculty members, and the Director of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity who assist in orienting Honor Council members to the VCU Honor System and assist in surveying the Respondent and Reporting Parties for the purpose of reviewing the Honor System procedures, determining the level of satisfaction with the policy, and implementing recommendations as appropriate.
The term “Advisor” refers to any person not a party to a matter, who advises the Respondent or Reporting Party throughout the adjudication process but who may not speak on behalf of the Respondent or Reporting Party or participate directly in the adjudication process unless authorized by the Administrator or Decision Board Chairperson.
The term “cheating,” as used in this policy, means receiving, giving, or attempting to receive or give unauthorized assistance, such as materials, devices, information, notes or sources, related to academic matters.
Clear and Convincing
The term “clear and convincing” is an intermediate standard, being more than a mere preponderance, but not to the extent of such certainty as is required beyond a reasonable doubt. It does not mean unequivocal. The “clear and convincing” standard requires that measure or degree of proof, which will produce in the mind of the reviewer of the facts a firm belief or conviction as to the allegations sought to be established. Mathew Bender, The Law of Evidence in Virginia, 1-5.
Director of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity
The term “Director of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity” or “Director” refers to the faculty or staff member authorized by the Vice Provost for Student Affairs or designee to be responsible for the administration of the Honor System, including the selection of members of the Honor Council. They also serves as a member of the Executive Board.
The term “facilitation,” as used in this policy, means helping or soliciting another person to commit an act of academic dishonesty.
The term “Faculty” refers to any person considered by the university to be a member of its faculty, including any person hired by the university to conduct classroom or teaching activities or activities involving research, administration, or clinical responsibilities.
The term “Honor Council” refers to the pool of students, faculty, and staff, who are selected, trained, and authorized by the Director or designee to determine whether a student has violated the Honor System and to recommend sanctions that may be imposed when a violation has been committed through their participation on a Decision, Sanction Review, or Appeal Board.
The term “Honor Probation” means a status in which a student is placed once there has been a finding that the student violated the Honor System and which increases the likelihood of a more severe sanction, including suspension or expulsion, for any subsequent violation.
The term “lying,” as used in this policy, means transferring, transmitting, or communicating any false statements concerning academic matters.
Member of the University Community
The term “member of the university community” includes any person who is a student, faculty member, staff member, university official, or any other person employed by the university.
The term “Notification E-mail” refers to the official university communication sent to the Respondent via their VCU e-mail address informing them of the specific violation(s) with which they have been charged and instructing them to contact the Administrator to schedule a meeting.
The term, “plagiarism,” as used in this policy, means representing the words, ideas, facts, opinions, theories, illustrations, tables or any part of another’s work as one’s own on an academic assignment without customary and proper acknowledgment of the source.
The term, “Policy,” as used in this policy, means the written regulations of the university as found in, but not limited to, the Honor System, the Undergraduate/Graduate Bulletins as found on the university web page, or other university publications or resources.
The term “Reporting Party” means any person who submits a charge alleging that a student has violated the Honor System.
The term “Respondent” means any student accused of violating the Honor System.
Academic Integrity Sanction Review Board
The term “Academic Integrity Sanction Review Board” or “SRB” refers to a panel of three Honor Council members – one undergraduate student, one graduate or professional student, and one faculty member – authorized by the Director or designee to review the sanctions recommended by an Administrator for an individual Respondent and impose other sanctions, when appropriate.
The term, “stealing,” as used in this policy, means taking or making academic material inaccessible, thereby temporarily or permanently depriving others of its use or possession.
The term “student” includes all persons taking VCU courses in any academic program, either full-time or part-time, pursuing undergraduate, graduate, or professional studies, including any person who withdraws while adjudication of charges is pending, and describes such persons from the time of application for admission through the awarding of a degree, even if misconduct is discovered after a degree is awarded.
The term “University Official” includes any person employed by the university, including faculty or staff, who performs assigned administrative or professional responsibilities.
The Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity officially interprets this policy and is responsible for obtaining approval for any revisions as required by the policy Creating and Maintaining Policies and Procedures through the appropriate governance structures. Please direct policy questions to the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity.
Rules, Responsibilities and Procedures
Honor System Authority
The Director or designee may develop procedures for the administration of the VCU Honor System consistent with this policy, including procedural rules for conducting Decision Board hearings. They shall select the membership of the Honor Council and individual Decision, Sanction Review, and Appeal Boards. They will appoint an Administrator or board from among eligible Honor Council members to adjudicate matters as appropriate. If the Director determines that an appropriate board cannot be convened within a reasonable period of time, an ad hoc committee of appropriately trained university community members may be established to adjudicate the matter. Any question of interpretation or application of the Honor System shall be referred to the Director or designee for final determination. The members of the Executive Board are selected by the Director from among the Honor Council members. Each Executive Board member serves a one-year term and may be re-appointed.
Rights and Responsibilities
Members of the University Community
To support a commitment to the Honor System, all members of the VCU community are required to: (1) adhere to the Honor System policy and its procedures; (2) report any suspicion or knowledge of possible violations of the Honor System; (3) answer truthfully when called upon to do so regarding Honor System matters; and (4) maintain appropriate confidentiality related to Honor System matters. Harassing, pressuring, or intimidating any Reporting Party, Respondent, or other party involved in a pending matter will not be tolerated and may result in disciplinary action under the appropriate university policy, such as the Student or University Code of Conduct or policies governing harassment.
All instructors, including faculty, staff, and student instructors, are expected to discuss the Honor System at the beginning of a course and to describe Honor System requirements in course syllabi. An instructor suspecting a violation must file a charge with the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity and continue to administer, assess, or grade academic work on the specific assignment as if no violation of the Honor System has occurred.
All students must know and understand the Honor System. It is a student’s responsibility to ask course instructors to clarify requirements for each assignment if they are uncertain.
Parties Involved in Adjudication
Any Respondent has a right to the following:
- Notice of any charges concerning the Respondent, including the specific violation alleged and the source of any such allegation;
- Notice of sanctions that may be imposed if violation is found to have occurred; and
- The option to refrain from admitting responsibility for alleged violations of the Honor System.
Both Reporting Parties and Respondents will have the opportunity to do the following:
- Present information;
- Provide witnesses; and
- Be accompanied by an advisor of their choice at their own expense during the Honor System adjudication process. Advisors may accompany participants for advisory purposes only and may not speak or participate directly in the adjudication process unless authorized by the Administrator or Chairperson. When selecting an Advisor, students should consider any scheduled meetings or hearings, as an Advisor’s scheduling conflicts will not be allowed to delay the adjudication process.
Filing Charges and Adjudication
Students who believe they may have committed acts of academic misconduct may report themselves in writing to the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity. An individual reporting their own Honor System violation will be considered both the Reporting Party and Respondent.
If an Administrator determines that a suspicion of academic misconduct had not been brought to the attention of either the self-referring student or the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity at the time that the student self-referred, self-referral is valid. A self-referring student found responsible for a violation may be placed on Honor Probation and receive a grade of “0” for the relevant assignment, quiz, or exam in the place of a sanction that would otherwise be appropriate for the violation found. A student may not avoid standard sanction through self-referral more than once or while on Honor Probation.
If the Administrator determines that a third party had brought a suspicion of academic misconduct to the attention of either the student or the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity before the student self-referred, the matter is not a valid self-referral and will be adjudicated via the standard process described in Section B.
Any person, whether or not a member of the university community, may file charges against a student for violations of the Honor System. This Reporting Party must file a charge, including an initial description of the specific violation alleged, with the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity within two (2) years of the alleged offense. Evidence may erode and memories may fade; therefore, absent extraordinary circumstances, all reporting parties are encouraged to file a charge within 30 calendar days of having substantial evidence of a potential violation.
Investigation and Determinations of Responsibility and Sanction
Once a charge has been submitted, the Director or designee will review the charge and appoint an Administrator to complete an investigation. The Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity will send a Notification E-mail to the VCU e-mail address of the Respondent identifying the specific charge(s) and contact information for the Administrator assigned to the case. The Respondent must contact the Administrator to schedule a meeting within five (5) business days. If the Respondent fails to respond to the Notification E-mail or to attend the scheduled meeting, the adjudication process will proceed. Failure to respond to the Notification E-mail will be deemed acceptance of any finding of responsibility and sanctions with no right to appeal.
The Administrator will investigate the allegations stated in the Notification E-mail to determine if the Respondent has violated the Honor System or if the matter can be closed without sanction. As part of the investigation, the Administrator will examine available information and make an effort to meet with the Respondent, Reporting Party, and witnesses, if any. The Administrator will determine whether the available information and statements provide clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent violated the Honor System.
Administrator Establishes that No Violation Occurred
If no violation is found, the Administrator will notify the Respondent and Reporting Party that the university will take no action concerning the allegations. If a Reporting Party disagrees with the Administrator’s finding, they may request that a Decision Board adjudicate the matter by submitting a written request to the Director within five business days.
Administrator Establishes Violation and Proposes Sanction
If the Administrator determines that the Respondent has violated the Honor System, they will propose appropriate sanction(s). The Respondent may respond to the proposed sanction in one of the following three ways.
Respondent Accepts Responsibility and Administrative Sanction Resolving the Matter
If the Respondent accepts the administrative determination and proposed sanctions, the matter will be closed. Neither the Reporting Party nor Respondent may appeal.
Respondent Accepts Responsibility but Rejects Administrative Sanction and Requests Academic Integrity Sanction Review Board Action
If the Respondent accepts responsibility for violating specified provisions of the Honor System but disagrees with the sanction(s) proposed by the Administrator, the Respondent may submit the matter to the Academic Integrity Sanction Review Board in writing within five business days from the date of notification to the parties of the Administrator’s determination.
The Academic Integrity Sanction Review Board will review any written statements concerning the proposed sanctions submitted by the Respondent, Administrator, and Reporting Party, if the Reporting Party chooses to submit a statement. Based upon review of the written documentation and case file, the Academic Integrity Sanction Review Board will decide, by majority vote of two of its three members, the appropriate sanctions, which may be more or less severe than the sanction proposed by the Administrator. The Academic Integrity Sanction Review Board will notify the Director of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity of their determination. The Director of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity will notify the Respondent and the Reporting Party of these sanctions in writing via their VCU e-mail addresses. The Academic Integrity Sanction Review Board shall assign the sanctions(s) that they determine are most appropriate. The outcome may be more severe than that proposed by the Administrator. The decision of the Academic Integrity Sanction Review Board is NOT subject to further appeal. Any decision to suspend or expel a student is subject to an administrative review by the Vice Provost for Student Affairs or designee.
Respondent Denies Administrative Finding and Sanction and Requests Decision Board Action
If the Respondent denies responsibility for violating the specified provisions of the Honor System as determined by the Administrator, the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity will schedule a Decision Board hearing to consider the information and evidence, make a determination concerning the allegations, and assign sanctions, if necessary. The Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity will notify the Respondent and Reporting Party of the date, time, and location of the hearing at least five business days prior to the scheduled hearing. If the Respondent or Reporting Party fails to attend the scheduled hearing, the hearing will proceed in their absence.
A Decision Board hearing will proceed as follows:
- Introductions and explanation of procedural rules by Decision Board Chairperson;
- Introductory statements and presentation of any evidence, information, and witnesses by participants in the following order:
- the Administrator,
- the Reporting Party, and
- the Respondent;
- Closing statements by participants in the following order:
- the Administrator,
- the Reporting Party, and
- the Respondent.
Questions may be posed by the Honor Council, investigator, accused or accuser at any time; questions are to be posed to the Chair; the Chair will re-direct to the appropriate party. If there are multiple questions the parties may be asked to provide their questions to the Chair in writing.
All procedural questions are subject to the final decision of the Chairperson of the Decision Board.
Witnesses will provide information to, and answer questions from, the Decision Board. Questions will be directed to the Chairperson, rather than to the witness directly, in order to preserve the educational tone of the hearing and to avoid an unnecessarily adversarial environment. The Chairperson shall determine whether information will be presented. It is the responsibility of the party desiring the participation of a witness to ensure that the witness appears.
There shall be a single verbatim record, such as a digital recording, of all Decision Board hearings. The record shall be the property of the university.
After the hearing, the Decision Board will hold closed-session, confidential deliberations to determine if there is clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent violated the Honor System and appropriate sanction(s), when necessary. In the case of multiple alleged violations, the Decision Board shall determine if the Respondent is responsible for each violation. Establishing that the Respondent violated the Honor System and appropriate sanction(s), if any, requires the majority vote of at least two of the three voting members of the Decision Board.
The Chairperson shall notify the Director of the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity of the Decision Board’s determination and sanction(s). The Director or designee will review the determination and sanction(s) for compliance with VCU policies and notify the Respondent and the Reporting Party in writing, via their VCU e-mail address, within five business days.
Neither an Administrator nor Reporting Party may appeal the decision of a Decision Board, but a Respondent may appeal the decision according to the process described below.
The Appeal Board may review the finding and sanctions imposed by a Decision Board upon a request by the Respondent. If a Respondent chooses to appeal the finding of the Decision Board, they must submit a written appeal to the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity within five business days following the date of the decision notice. The written appeal must contain all information, including any new evidence, related to one of the following reasons for appeal:
- New and pertinent evidence or
- A procedural error, which impacted the outcome of the case.
The Administrator and the Chairperson of the Decision Board may submit a statement responding to the claims or issues as presented by the written appeal. The written appeal and all other written statements will be submitted by the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity to the Appeal Board.
The Appeal Board will review the Respondent’s written appeal as well as any written statements from the Administrator and the Chairperson of the Decision Board. Based on a majority vote of two of its three members, an Appeal Board will make one of two recommendations to the Vice Provost for Student Affairs or designee concerning the appeal:
- Uphold the Decision Board’s finding and sanction(s) or
- Refer the matter for a new hearing by a second Decision Board whose members are different from those participating on the first Decision Board.
The Vice Provost for Student Affairs or designee will review the recommendation of the Appeal Board, make a final determination concerning the Respondent’s appeal, and notify the Respondent of that outcome.
If the Appeal Board sends the matter to a second Decision Board, the second Decision Board, its Chairperson, and the Director shall follow the process described in Section B above. The finding and sanctions of a second Decision Board are not subject to further appeal.
A Respondent found responsible for any Honor System violation shall be placed on Honor Probation and receive appropriate sanctions. Some sanctions may result in lowering a cumulative grade point average, loss of a graduate assistantship, or dismissal from an academic program. These factors are not considered by members of the Honor Council during the adjudication of an allegation. Although Honor Council Members can consider and assign other sanctions from the list below, the following sanctions are generally recommended:
- A grade of ‘F’ in the course for a student’s first violation, except in the case of a valid self-referral resulting in only Honor Probation and a grade of ‘0’ on the relevant assignment; and
- Suspension for at least three semesters for any subsequent violation.
All violations of the Honor System are serious, but the scope and the intent of the violation shall be weighed when applying sanctions other than those recommended. For example, acts involving advance planning, conspiring with others, or some actual or potential harm to others, may merit a more severe sanction, even for a first offense. An attempt to commit a violation generally merits the same sanction as an actual violation. Sanctions that balance consequences for misconduct with opportunities to learn and grow may be considered.
A Respondent shall be presumed not responsible for an alleged violation of the Honor System unless otherwise determined through a completed adjudication process; however, VCU will not issue a degree to any student charged with violating the Honor System until an allegation has been completely investigated and adjudicated, including appeals. A temporary administrative hold shall be placed on the Respondent’s record pending resolution and forwarded to the Graduation Coordinator and the Respondent’s School or College.
The following sanctions are not recorded on a student’s transcript or reported to external agencies as a university disciplinary action, unless required by law:
- Honor Probation. Honor Probation is a mandatory sanction for any violation of the Honor System and remains in effect throughout all current and future enrollment at VCU. The Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity maintains a record of students on Honor Probation. If a student on Honor Probation is found responsible for a subsequent violation of the Honor System, the sanction shall be Suspension or Expulsion.
- Grade of ‘0’ on an Assignment. A grade of ‘0’ may be assigned for any test, paper, or other assignment and shall be factored into the course grade. A grade of ‘0’ assigned by the Honor System may not be dropped or replaced.
- Additional Sanction(s) Not Reported. A student may be assigned other relevant sanctions, including, but not limited to, restitution, community service, special projects and special educational requirements. A student who fails to complete these sanctions or provide documentation of completion of the sanctions may be subject to additional disciplinary action under the Student Code of Conduct.
The following sanctions are recorded as a university disciplinary action on a student’s transcript and reported to external agencies as required by law:
- Assignment of a Grade of ‘F’ for the Course. A course grade of ‘F’ may be assigned for the course in which the Respondent committed the violation. Grades assigned by the Honor System may not be voided in any way, including by withdrawal from a course or from VCU, by use of the Repeat Course Option, or through the Grade Appeal Procedure. Notation of an ‘F’ resulting from an Honor System violation shall remain on the transcript for five years from the date of the last violation.
- Suspension. During suspension, which can be imposed for a maximum of six consecutive semesters, a student loses all university privileges, including but not limited to, access to facilities, programs, classes, and VCU premises. Students who do not attend VCU for three or more successive semesters, excluding summer sessions, must submit an application for readmission to the Office of Admissions. Notation of suspension remains on the student’s transcript permanently.
- Expulsion. Expulsion results in permanent dismissal from the university, administrative withdrawal from classes, and loss of all University privileges. Notation of expulsion remains on the student’s transcript permanently.
- Revocation. When a violation invalidates the degree requirement, then the sanction may include a recommendation to the university President for revocation of a degree or certificate. Notation of revocation remains on the student’s transcript permanently.
The Honor System adjudication process will be completed regardless of a Respondent’s decision to discontinue the course. A student should discuss with an academic advisor the potential consequences of a decision to discontinue attendance in or to drop or withdraw from a course in which an alleged violation has occurred.
Sanctions and other information related to academic integrity adjudication processes are part of the educational record of the Respondent and are protected from release under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law. However, VCU may release certain educational records pursuant to FERPA and VCU’s Policy on the Release of the Educational Record of a Dependent Student.
All Honor System records shall be maintained with sufficient safeguards to ensure confidentiality. An annual summary report of all cases, with identifying information removed, shall be made available to the VCU Board of Visitors and, upon request and at VCU’s discretion, to internal or external sources. Regardless of the finding of responsibility, the Academic Integrity Officer or the Administrator shall prepare and keep a confidential record of pertinent facts on each case. De-identified cases and composite data will serve the purpose of honor education for the university community.
All records related to honor proceedings will be kept or destroyed in accordance with the Library of Virginia Records and Retention Disposition Schedule.
Regular Review of Honor System
All Honor Council members participate in annual training on topics related to confidentiality and adjudication procedures.
The Honor System shall be reviewed regularly under the direction of the Director. Reporting Parties and Respondents will be surveyed for regular reviews of Honor System procedures to determine the level of satisfaction with the policy. The Executive Board and the Director shall be responsible for administering and reviewing these surveys and implementing recommendations, as appropriate.
There are no forms associated with this policy and procedures.
- VCU Procedures for Degree Revocation
- Release of the Educational Record of a Dependent Student
This policy1 supersedes the following archived policies:
Initial Approval: November 16, 2006, effective Fall 2007 VCU Honor System
Revision Approved: August 12, 2015, Honor System-Interim
There are no FAQs associated with this policy and procedures.
1 This Honor System has drawn material from Edward N. Stoner’s and John Wesley Lowery’s A Twenty-First Century Model Student Code of Conduct and a review of other universities’ policies, including Boston University; Carnegie Mellon University; Duke University; George Mason University; Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech); College of William & Mary; University of Colorado, Boulder; University of Maryland; University of Massachusetts, Boston; University of New Hampshire; University of Virginia; and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).