I was recently having a conversation with the members of our graduate executive committee about a procedure relating to graduate student misconduct and thought I'd throw it out to the dear readers of our blog. I do so because it seems to me that there is a clearly correct answer to what the procedure should be but several members of our committee disagreed, and a quick informal survey of some colleagues around the profession suggests that many schools have a different policy. So maybe I'm missing something.
All grad students at GU go through a detailed presentation on the nature of academic misconduct, with detailed examples. (A special meeting is required of all international students as there have been concerns in the past that standards differ with country.) They also have written statements on these matters.)
If a student is suspected by a professor of misconduct - plagiarism, lack of citation, cheating, etc - the professor first investigates a bit herself. There is no requirement that the case be brought before the disciplinary committee of the grad school. If the professor decides that there is insufficient evidence, or that the mistake was a minor and genuine mistake, they are free to handle it as a "teachable moment".
If they decide that the case is prima facie clear and serious enough - how serious is of course a judgment call - it is sent to the committee. The committee has several options: they can dismiss the case without predjudice against the student; they can decide that there was a technical error not rising to the level of "responsibility for misconduct" in which case they can ask the dean to send a letter to the student outlining warnings and procedures; or they can find that the student was responsible for misconduct. If they latter, they send a recommendation to the dean of a penalty ranging from warning up to dismissal. Final decisions come from the dean. And here is the issue: if a finding of responsibility for misconduct is ratified by the dean, whatever the penalty, a notification is put on the transcript saying that the student was found responsible for academic misconduct in the course. That is non-optional. And some of my colleagues think that it should be optional. It should, that is, be possible for the committee and dean to find the student responsible for misconduct without having to place a notification on the transcript.
This seems to me to be obviously wrong. Why?
Well, first, though many put it this way, the notification is not a punishment. It is an official record of punishment. Granted many potential employers may not want to hire someone with such a notification. So the inclusion of the notification can have bad effects for the student. But the same could be said of, say, a C in a required logic course. I certainly have used that as a reason not to hire someone. But we do not consider printing that C to be a further "punishment". The grade reflects relevant aspects of what the student did in the course, and the point of a transcript is to make that clear. Nothing, it seems to me, could be more salient as a record of how a student did in a course than the fact that they, for example, plagiarized. To keep this secret is in the most straight-forward way to be complicit in lying. (If the student isn't planning to withhold that relevant information from employers, there is no reason not to want it on the transcript.) There are other more consequential factors, such as that withholding notification makes it more likely that plagiarists will get hired without employers having a chance to make an informed decision as to whether they want to hire someone with this particular history.
This is a weird case in which these considerations seem completely and obviously decisive to me, yet many programs do not implement them, and otherwise sensible and thoughtful colleagues disagree. So I am curious as to whether others disagree and can articulate why. (Nothing my colleagues said leads me to soften my views in any way, fwiw.)