Posted by: 2thdocbob | 21 April 2022

Thoughts on Academic Integrity

Last week I was invited by our Deans of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs to address one of our classes on the topic of academic integrity. I was given a little direction, and I was given five minutes. The challenge was to cover all the points in five minutes. After four edits, I came up with a statement that students and administrators appreciated.

I suppose this assignment came to me because I am the Chair of our College’s Student Performance Committee and also manage and teach our Ethics curriculum. I am grateful for the challenge that it presented.

——————————————————-

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you all for being here.

I am here today because I want to see you succeed in your professional lives. More than that, I hope you will all succeed in your personal lives as well.

A family member loves playing Assassin’s Creed. She has nine different games. She also goes to several sites that offer hints and cheats, which help her know where to go and what to do when it isn’t clear. “Cheat codes” are common in video games. Most of you know that. (Some of you will recognize UUDDLRLRAB.) The term describes “anything a person does other than the traditional way of doing something for the purpose of winning or scoring above their competition.” (You probably see where I’m heading with this.)

But let’s be honest; in life there are no cheat codes. Dishonesty may bring a temporary advantage, but it is rarely beneficial in the long run. We cannot achieve anything worthwhile in life without effort. In fact, hidden features in life are only unlocked through honest effort. Dishonesty creates vulnerabilities and limits your ability to advance to higher levels.

One of the characteristics of a profession is self-regulation, or self-governance. The applications of this principle encompass the entire profession as well as each individual. One sense of this concept is expressed as having control or rule over oneself. Thus, we refer to yielding to impulses to do wrong as unprofessional behavior.

We tend to rationalize acts of dishonesty by telling ourselves that “I’m not hurting anyone.” When we examine this in terms of ethical principles, we find that this is not true. Cheating limits your own autonomy, your freedom to choose, as well as the autonomy of others; it violates the principle of justice, which we equate with fairness and how we treat others; cheating violates veracity and competence by being untruthful about one’s professional knowledge, which could harm your colleagues, your patients, and you; and it violates society’s trust in you as a professional. This trust is the foundation of the privileges society grants us based on our training. Breaking this trust has the potential to harm you, your family, your employees, your patients, and your colleagues.

Like it or not, the acts of each individual reflect upon all members of the group. If a small group engages in cheating, in microaggressions, or in other disrespectful actions, the whole class is labelled. One of the dental schools along I-10 has gained a reputation as the one whose students cheated on the California Law and Ethics Exam. Dishonest individuals continue to tarnish dentistry’s reputation. We will examine some cases later on in the Ethics course.

If you recall the Academic Integrity assignment last semester, Papadakis[i] found a connection between dishonest behavior by medical students and later discipline by medical boards. This also has application to dental students. The path you choose to follow now will be the path you follow the rest of your life unless you make an effort to change in one direction or another.

The good news is that the laws of motion apply to our behavior. A force must be applied to change one’s trajectory. We can apply that force ourselves, or it can be applied by the Dental Board or by a Jury. I invite you to consider which approach you prefer.

In closing, I challenge each one of you to commit or to recommit yourself to living an honest, respectful, integrity-filled life. The benefits will far outweigh any disadvantages. Remember, if you are struggling, we can help you; if you are dishonest, we cannot. Disrespect is a losing game; dishonesty is a game you cannot win.


[i] Papadakis, et al. Disciplinary Action by Medical Boards and Prior Behavior in Medical School. N Eng J Med 2005;353:2673-82.


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