Academic Ethics

Introduction to Academic Ethics
The ethical expectations placed on a college student are not always clearly spelled out and sometimes students run into trouble through ignorance rather than malice. For example, if you never learned the fine art of citing sources or never had an explanation of the difference between collaborative work and using someone else's work, you may be uncertain as to what is appropriate behavior in the college setting. Here's your chance to get a clear understanding of the expectations of this college. Remember, violating an academic ethical standard is not only wrong, it may result in serious consequences such as failure in a course. You need to know and understand the standards to be a successful student.


Legal Issues
The law and the internet are in the process of evolving. As you read this, new laws are being debated on the federal and state levels. In general, the internet is subject to the same regulations/laws as other media, particularly in the areas of copyright, harassment, and pornography. It is every individual's responsibility to be aware of these laws. Individuals charged with violations of federal or state laws involving use of the internet may lose their campus computer privileges. Individuals convicted of those charges will lose their campus computer privileges.


Several states have already passed laws that specifically include harassment through the electronic media in the wording of harassment laws. Some interpretations of existing laws state that any vehicle of harassment is implied, and that electronic methods are therefore already covered. At any rate, harassment of individuals through the internet, through electronic messages or materials included in a home page, subjects you to legal actions. It is also totally irresponsible and unacceptable use of the home page.


The laws dealing with pornography and the internet are rapidly changing. It is an area where issues of freedom of speech, personal safety, child welfare, and the right of privacy clash and interact in strange ways. The lines and definition of pornography are pretty fuzzy. Be aware that you are liable for violations of federal and state laws concerning pornography and that it is your responsibility to know and understand those laws.


Theft of Library Material
The campus considers the theft or mutilation of library materials a serious issue. These acts destroy valuable material and force the Library to put badly needed budget into paying for replacements instead of for new material. Theft and damage of material also significantly impact other students' ability to do research. Students apprehended trying to steal or willfully damage material will be charged under the Student Conduct Code (Major Infractions #8) and brought before the Faculty-Student Judicial Board.


Academic Honesty is a standard of behavior expected of college students and of college professors. Sometimes people violate these standards because they don't understand the expectations. Violations of the standard include:


  • Cheating on tests by looking at someone else's test, by sneaking in answers, or by unauthorized viewing of tests ahead of time. Also, knowingly letting someone copy your answers is considered cheating.
  • Submitting as your own a paper or other material written by someone else.
  • Letting someone else submit your work as their own or writing papers for someone else. 
  • Plagiarizing material or using other people's words or ideas without giving credit.
  • Making up references - citing sources that you didn't use.
  • Falsifying results of experiments or making up data.
  • Submitting the same paper in more than one course without prior approval by both professors.
  • Collaborative work or working together on a project is sometimes appropriate, but it is not appropriate to submit the same work as someone else. Talk to your instructor ahead of time about how to properly submit collaborative work.

Students sometime justify betraying the academic standard by saying it doesn't matter or that everyone does it. Why is it important and why do we make such a fuss about it? There are significant reasons why academic cheating matters. Gardner and Jewler have identified some of these in their book Your College Experience: Strategies for Success (134).

It impairs your academic growth. Professors use the papers and tests you produce to give you feedback about your progress in the course. Cheating gives them false information and impairs their ability to assist you in learning the course content. At the same time you cheat yourself out of knowledge you need for subsequent courses and for your chosen profession.

It also impairs your personal growth. Grades received because of honest work give you a sense of accomplishment and pride. Grades received because of cheating make you feel ashamed of yourself . Cheating decreases your sense of self worth and your sense of value as a person. It can also become a habit that undermines many aspects of your life.

Cheating threatens your ability to perform your chosen work. Would you like the lab technician doing your blood work to have cheated on that part of her course?

The grading process becomes meaningless if grades are based on dishonest performance. It not only makes your grade meaningless, it devalues the grade of everyone in the course.

Most people care about their reputation. Ask yourself if it is worth the cost if your name becomes associated with cheating.


Gardner, John and A. Jerome Jewler. Your College Experience:
Strategies for Success.
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing . 1997.

Many students arrive at college with a shaky concept of plagiarism and how to avoid committing it. The Oxford Universal Dictionary (*Note that I am avoiding plagiarism by citing my source ) defines plagiarism as "the taking and using as one's own of the thoughts, writings, or inventions of another." (1513) Most of us can quickly grasp that when we use someone's exact words, we need to give credit to the author. What is harder for some people to understand is that we also need to give credit when we use someone's ideas. That means that changing the exact wording of a piece of writing doesn't eliminate the need to give credit to the original author. This can get tricky when you've read several articles on a certain subject and start to lose track of whose ideas are whose.

Plagiarism is considered a very serious offense in the academic community. Professors can lose their jobs if they commit plagiarism and would have a difficult time finding another in academia. Students at SUNY Cobleskill face academic discipline and may be dismissed from the affected course. This is spelled out in the Academic Policies section of the College Catalog.

The good news is that there is plenty of help for learning how to properly cite your sources and that there is really no reason to plagiarize. It's acceptable to use someone else's ideas in a paper, AS LONG AS YOU GIVE CREDIT. Careful citing of your sources indicates good scholarship and an understanding of the literature. Several links appear below to assist you in understanding proper use of citing sources.


Little, William. The Oxford universal dictionary on historical principles. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955.

Code of Ethics Links

Professional Organizations' Codes of Ethics Many professions have codes of ethics particular to that profession. These codes are generally taken very seriously and violation of the code may result in disciplinary procedures or in some cases, loss of professional status. It is important for you to become familiar with the code of ethics in the profession you are intending to enter. Below are some links to help you explore those codes.