By Rev. Isaac Boaheng
Posted 9th July 2020
The relevance of integrity within the academic community is not in doubt. Every scholarly community appreciates the need to maintain high integrity. Yet, the question of what scholarly integrity is and how to achieve it has not been given the needed attention. Consequently, most researchers have a vague understanding of the concept of integrity in their academic discipline, be it social science, natural science, medicine, engineering or technology, to mention but a few. This article gathers data relevant to the understanding and practice of integrity within the academic circle.
What is scholarly integrity?
The word integrity connotes wholeness, purity, and coherence. Integrity means the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. Because each academic community defines integrity based on what it values, there may be some variations as to what is considered ethical as one moves from one discipline to another. In view of this, this article aims at presenting issues on integrity that have common significance among researchers of different disciplines.
Scholarly integrity has to do with laid down professional standards that a member of the academic community has to adhere to. Therefore, to be a scholar of integrity one needs to adhere to the ethics of academic research. Some key principles need attention in this regard. First of all, scholarly integrity means scholarly honesty. Honesty is the foundation upon which the other aspect of scholarly integrity is built. To be honest means representing people’s ideas fairly. An honest scholar avoids dishonest behavior like cheating (deliberately using or attempting to use unauthorized material in academic work), falsification (falsifying information) and plagiarism (failure to acknowledge the source of information that belongs to others). An example of cheating is the use of foreign material during examinations. Usually, students are tempted to send unauthorized materials to the examination room because of poor preparations. The cheating student cannot be a scholar of honesty. Academic dishonesty also applies to the invigilator who facilitates cheating in an examination or does not actively facilitate it but fails to report those who indulge in such an act. More so, a student who passes unauthorized information to another student during examination is a dishonest one. A person who needs field data in support of an assertion but does not have time to conduct the required fieldwork to obtain such empirical data may be tempted to make up some data and cite it. Making up data also constitutes the falsification of data and makes the researcher academically dishonest. The issue of plagiarism is huge within the academic circle. It refers to “wrongful attempt to pass off another person’s literary or musical work as one’s own; an act of copying without permission or acknowledgment” (Garmonsway, cited in Smith 2009:72).
Misreporting of reports also undermines scholarly integrity. Misreporting of results means giving either incomplete or inadequate report of results with the effect of misleading the reader. This happens, for example, when one selects a portion of his or her data to support his or her assertion or hypothesis and fails to present the portion of the results that contradicts the hypothesis. In other words, misreporting means selectively reporting outcomes favorable to one’s hypothesis (particularly statistically significant results) and disregarding those that contradict the initial hypothesis. When this happens, the researcher has not only wasted time and resources but he or she has also misdirected the research.
Another aspect of scholar integrity is the way and manner in which the scholar meets deadlines for submission of works. The scholar of integrity tries as much as possible to work with the time frame for the work assigned to him or her. Most scholars have tight schedules. In addition to being a researcher, a scholar may be a parent, a minister of the gospel, sometimes a student, and so on. This makes it practically difficult to meet deadlines. However, the scholar of integrity works hard to meet his or her deadline as much as practicable. Time management is therefore very important to the scholar of integrity. All people have the same 24 hours, 1440 minutes and 86 400 seconds in a day. The way one uses his or her time is what makes the difference. Proper planning is key to succeeding in academia, just as it is for ensuring success in other careers.
The need to meet deadlines does not only apply to the researcher but also to supervisors. There are instances where people have not been able to graduate because their supervisors failed to go through their work and submit the necessary report. Supervisors noted for this behavior lack integrity required by the academic community. Under normal circumstances, no student should fail to graduate because of delayed feedback from his or her supervisor. Besides, supervisors should also endeavor to give explicit guidelines to their students concerning how works should be revised and as much as possible maintain a good relationship with their students. The need to provide explicit direction for revision and to do so on time also applies to reviewers of journal articles and books. Further still, supervisors and reviewers of integrity also try as much as possible to work without being influenced by their relationship with their students or the author of a submitted paper. For journal articles, publishers usually do a blind review and so the reviewer is not likely to know the identity of the author. In the case of a thesis/dissertation, the student’s identity is usually known by the supervisor. The supervisor should not be influenced by any relationship he or she has with the student; neither should his or her evaluation of the work be informed by the student’s reputation in academia. By implementing these guidelines both lecturers/supervisors and students can develop mutual trust for each other. This is important because without trust there can be no sharing of information to sustain the academic society.
Recent cases of exchanging sex for grades in some educational institutions in the world makes it important to include sexual integrity in a paper like this. Many top academic institutions have increasingly been facing allegations of sexual harassment by lecturers. There are also allegations of sexual harassment involving academics in senior positions. All these allegations, if proven, undermine the integrity of the scholarly community. Since rumors usually have some iota of truth in them, some journalists have investigated and provided evidence to back some of these allegations in some top universities in recent times. Sexual harassment and related practices do not enhance an ethical culture and must be checked through the cultivation of sexual integrity (or ethics).
Sexual integrity has to do with maintaining sexual morality. This requires making a personal conscious effort to discipline ourselves in our conduct towards the opposite sex. To this end, married scholars need to “plant and cultivate protective hedges around their marriages” and actively resist and “flee from sexual temptation” (Köstenberger 2011:164). Those who are not married must also avoid thought and actions that breed lust and ends in fornication. There is the need to have accountability partners who can serve as one’s watchdogs. These partners must be people who are matured in faith and preferably of the same sex. There is also the need to make conscious efforts to filter the kind of words one uses in conversation with the opposite partner. Scholars of integrity are also required to put a check on the time they spend alone with the opposite sex.
Scholarly integrity also has to do with honoring, valuing, and considering diverse opinions and ideas. It is a common practice for researchers to actively engage other people’s work through thorough testing, and debate. In the process, no scholar can agree with all views expressed by other scholars. There are many cases where a researcher disagrees with positions taken by other scholars. In an academic community of integrity, disagreement should not result in dishonoring, disrespecting the person one disagrees with. Lecturers are expected to respect, value and take the views of their students seriously; students must respect and value other people’s contributions to debates and discussions, even if they disagree with them.
The need for scholarly integrity
There are many reasons why scholarly integrity is necessary, a few of which are outlined below. Firstly, academic integrity facilitates learning. Presenting people’s work as one’s own makes one lazy and militates against the learning process. Secondly, developing academic integrity increases the chance of becoming honest in one’s future employment. In the job market, one could easily lose his or her job if he or she is dishonest. If dishonesty in academia is condoned, people will graduate and show dishonesty in their work, leading to loss of job, disgrace, to mention but a few.
Next, being academically dishonest has consequences such as failing a course, having one’s certificate withheld, expelling from a university and so on. One has to be honest to avoid these consequences. More so, without maintaining scholarly integrity research, teaching, and degrees from an academic institution cannot be accepted by others. Furthermore, scholarly integrity is key to ensuring fairness in the interactions of students, faculty, and other academic staff. An institution of integrity treats all equally regardless of sex, race, nationality, complexion, age, religion and so on. Additionally, scholarly integrity makes researchers responsible for the views they express and for the comments they pass on other people’s work(s).
Again, scholarly integrity means conducting independent research. There is a growing trend where people pay certain institutions or individuals to do their research for them. This is easy for one to do in the contemporary world where information can be sent to people in a second. The researcher gets the job done by the company or individual he or she has paid and then presents it as his or her original research. Supervisors may also charge their students and conduct their research for them. Consequently, people are awarded degrees which they did not work for. This is ethically wrong and people must desist from it. The researcher can however seek directives, clarification, existing literature on his or her area of research and use them for his or her work without compromising his or her integrity. Receiving technical advice and constructive criticisms is acceptable. The researcher must however process those her or his thought(s) onto work.
In addition, scholarly integrity is the shared responsibility of individuals and the community at large. Therefore, every participant of an academic enterprise, including students, faculty members, and others, have the responsibility of safeguarding the integrity of its scholarship, teaching and research. Those who indulge in malpractices must be prompted, cautioned and brought to book. This must however be done in a brotherly or sisterly manner.
The Role of Institutions in Ensuring Scholarly Integrity
The academic community is a major stakeholder in ensuring ethical research culture. Therefore, before concluding this article I suggest a few practical guidelines that must be given to academic institutions regarding the issue of scholarly integrity. Firstly, academic institutions are encouraged to come out with clear, fair, and practicable academic integrity policies. Secondly, these policies must be promoted (for example, through education) among all members of the academic community. Third, the policies must be enforced and prescribed sanctions applied where applicable. Fourth, there should be revisions where needed to include, for example, issues that may develop later due to technological advancement.
The ability of an academic institution to achieve its aim depends largely on the integrity of the players of the institution. Scholarly integrity is a prerequisite for becoming a great scholar. A key step to becoming a great scholar, to be honest in all endeavors. Honesty starts with the individual and extends out into the larger community. Therefore, whether in the laboratory, at home or in the classroom, students and faculty alike must seek knowledge genuinely. All efforts must be made to safeguard against dishonesty; ignorance is no excuse. In a world like ours, the temptation to plagiarize is very strong. Yet, one must resist such temptation and do the right thing to maintain his or her scholarly integrity. Courage is key to maintaining scholarly integrity; one needs to be courageous once he or she is doing the right thing.
Fishman T (ed.) nd. The International Center for Academic Integrity. Np: Clemson University.
Pdf version accessed at https://www.academicintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Fundamental-Values-2014.pdf
Köstenberger AJ 2011. “Integrity” in Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue. Crossway, 2011.
Neville C 2010. From The Complete Guide to Referencing and Avoiding Plagiarism 2nd edition.Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Smith KG 2009. Academic Writing and Theological Research: A Guide for Students. Johannesburg: South African Theological Seminary Press.
This article is published with the kind courtesy of the author—Isaac Boaheng (Rev.), an ordained minister of the Methodist Church Ghana, a Master of divinity graduate of the Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon Accra -Ghana and a Translator with the Bible Society of Ghana.
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