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Student Academic Integrity FAQ

Academic honesty and integrity are fundamental values in a community of scholars. As stated in the MSU Academic Freedom Report, students and faculty share a commitment to and responsibility for "maintaining the integrity of scholarship, grades, and professional standards." To abuse these values is to assault one's own personal integrity and character. Yet cheating occurs on this campus and elsewhere. One researcher has called cheating an "international epidemic."

The best way to protect yourself from an allegation of academic dishonesty is simple: Don't cheat. Read on for the answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, which is of increasing interest on campuses throughout the world.

I think I know what cheating is, but how does MSU define cheating?

How can I avoid even being suspected of cheating?

What happens if I'm guilty of cheating?

What do I do if my instructor accuses me of cheating--and I really didn't do it?

If I see another student cheating, what should I do?

Any other advice?

I think I know what cheating is, but how does MSU define cheating?

First of all, see the Integrity of Scholarship and Grades Policy.  Here you'll find a definition of "academic misconduct."  Then see the Protection of Scholarship and Grades policy for a description of what constitutes "academic dishonesty" -- conduct that violates the fundamental principles of trust, honesty, and integrity.

Taken together, those two documents tell you not to:
  • turn in an exam, paper, or project that is not wholly your own work;
  • copy answers from another student's exam or test;
  • get questions and/or answers from students who have already taken an exam or quiz you are scheduled to take;
  • have another person take a test for you;
  • submit the same paper for two or more classes;
  • use other authors' ideas, words or phrases without proper attribution;
  • collaborate with other students on projects or assignments without your instructor's permission;
  • falsify your academic and admission records;
  • violate professional standards.

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How can I avoid even being suspected of cheating?

Your question assumes that innocent behavior can attract negative attention from instructors, and that may be true. To protect yourself from any suspicion of cheating, consider the following.

When taking quizzes, tests or exams:
  • keep your eyes fixed firmly on your blue book or score sheet;
  • don't take any unauthorized gear to the test site (e.g., study notes, textbooks, calculators);
  • silence your cell phones;
  • place your personal belongings under your desk and out of sight;
  • don't fiddle (e.g., tap your pencil or fingers, rearrange your clothing);
  • take your cap off;
  • if you are required to provide blue books, be sure they are void of even the slightest hint of notes and no pages are missing; and
  • don't sit next to friends.
When completing lab projects, term papers and take-home tests:
  • stay far away from Internet paper mills and files full of other students' exams or term papers;
  • avoid unauthorized collaboration with other students;
  • know what plagiarism is so you can avoid it. [Plagiarism (from the Latin plagiarius, an abductor, and plagiare, to steal); Plagiarism is defined as presenting another person's work or ideas as one's own.]
  • don't recycle your term papers from one course to another course.

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What happens if I'm guilty of cheating?

If your instructor believes you have committed an act of academic misconduct, s/he may give you a penalty grade, which is defined as any grade based on a charge of academic misconduct.  A penalty grade may include, but is not limited to, a failing grade on an assignment or in the course.  That's up to each instructor.  When this occurs, the Integrity of Scholarship and Grades policy (ISG) requires your instructor to report the academic misconduct to your dean through an electronic Academic Dishonesty Report.  The form, which will end up in your student folder, also asks if your instructor wants to request an academic disciplinary hearing to impose sanctions in addition to the penalty grade.  Additional sanctions include probation, suspension from your program or the University for a designated time.  Your dean may also call for this hearing independent of your instructor.  Deans usually call for disciplinary hearings for repeat offenders or in cases involving egregious acts of academic misconduct.  The ISG policy requires first-time offenders to complete an Academic Integrity Education Program, which is administered by the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education or the Dean of The Graduate School.

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What do I do if my instructor accuses me of cheating--and I really didn't do it?

If this happens, stay calm.  Don't get angry or rude. During your meeting with your instructor, politely ask him or her why he or she believes you have cheated.  You then should explain why you believe you did not commit an act of academic misconduct.  Remember, pleading ignorance of the rules of say, plagiarism, is not a defense for your actions.  If you believe witnesses are available to support your position, ask your instructor to meet with them and you--the sooner the better.

If you are unable to resolve the dispute with your instructor, you may discuss the matter with the chair/director of the department/school that offered the course.  If that meeting fails to settle the situation, the final step in the process is to request an academic grievance hearing before the appropriate hearing board.  For an explanation of the hearing process, click here.  If the hearing board clears you of the charge, your instructor can appeal the decision or accept the decision and recalculate your grade.  If your dean has requested an academic disciplinary hearing (see above), that hearing would proceed only if the hearing to contest the allegation upholds your instructor's charge.  Students who are accused of cheating and for whom an academic disciplinary hearing has been requested have 10 class days to file a written request for an academic grievance hearing to contest the allegation in the unit in which the misconduct occurred.

You may consult with the University Ombudsperson at any time during these negotiations.  The Ombudsperson will explain the process of contesting an allegation of academic dishonesty, review the university rules and policies regarding academic integrity and explain the hearing process.

You should take notes during or after every discussion.

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If I see another student cheating, what should I do?

MSU does not have an all-university honor code, but some colleges, schools and departments do.  If you are enrolled in a program that has an honor code, consult the code on how to proceed.

Even if you are not governed by an Honor Code, you are still encouraged to report an incident of academic dishonesty.  The University’s policy, as published in the Integrity of Scholarship and Grades, states, “The principles of truth and honesty are recognized as fundamental to a community of scholars. The university expects both instructors and students to honor these principles and, in so doing, to protect the validity of university education and grades.”  Therefore, if you observe cheating taking place, please report it to your instructor.  It will then be up to your instructor to look into the matter and take appropriate action.

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Any other advice?

Again, don't cheat. It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. The stakes are too costly for your academic career and your reputation. Instructors are increasingly resorting to various strategies to discourage their students from committing any acts of academic misconduct, including stepping up their monitoring of students during exams. If you are struggling academically, are uncertain on how to properly cite resources, or are facing other issues that are affecting your academic success, seek help from your instructor and/or appropriate resource centers on campus.

For example, the Learning Resources Center can provide you with strategies to improve your study skills and habits. Your academic advisor can also assist you in finding other resources on campus as well.  Start on projects early in the term, give yourself adequate time to study for exams, and don't pressure yourself to be perfect. See also Plagiarism and Faculty FAQ.

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Questions? Contact the Ombudsperson