Faculty senate discusses academic integrity, tenure, and graduate stipends
Faculty and students continue to adjust to post-pandemic university life, which has raised questions about academic integrity
Zoe Berg, photo editor
As Yalies get used to the “new normal” of in-person learning, academic integrity has resurfaced as a topic of conversation among Yale faculty.
At the last meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate, faculty heard from Yale College’s Executive Committee, which aims to “enforce undergraduate regulations fairly, consistently, and uniformly.” Faculty members have expressed concerns in recent months about maintaining academic integrity, the committee said, especially as some classes have retained partial remote options for lessons, exams and assignments.
“Digital resources have reshaped the landscape of learning, and in many cases our concepts of plagiarism and academic dishonesty have not always kept pace,” Executive Committee Chairman David Vasseur told The News. “Our goal was really to identify some of these vulnerable areas.”
Overall, Vasseur said, the Committee aims to demystify its own role on campus and reduce accidental instances of academic misconduct.
Cases of academic violations referred to the committee peaked in late spring 2020, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the numbers remained high through the next academic year, Vasseur said. During this period, academic violations accounted for nearly all of the Committee’s cases, but since then have tended to decline relative to non-academic violations as more students have returned to campus. A previous survey conducted by The News in the spring of 2021 found that a higher number of undergraduates reported participating in academic misconduct than during pre-pandemic semesters.
The committee, which includes eight faculty members as well as a slate of student representatives, reviewed previous years of academic misconduct ahead of the Senate meeting and identified three key areas, or “gotchas,” in which students are more and more fallen. These “pitfalls” were not necessarily unique to the pandemic, but committee members said the move to fully or partially virtual classes during the pandemic has made them more pressing for faculty.
The first, using shared documents for collaboration on lab reports or group assignments, may result in the inadvertent use of another student’s words. Additionally, the committee encouraged faculty members to ensure that students follow sources accurately when researching online and to provide more in-depth research instructions. Finally, the committee noted a proliferation of online repositories with solution guides or walkthroughs for class assignments.
To mitigate what the committee describes as “temptations” to cheat, committee vice-chairman Mick Hunter said instructors should aim to hold in-person exams where possible and also clearly communicate course expectations. , not relying on students to “tie the knot” about what they may or may not be allowed to do. Overall, faculty should be transparent with students about steps taken to improve academic integrity, such as having multiple versions of an exam.
Leleda Beraki ’24, one of Yale College Council’s academic policy directors, called concerns about academic integrity “valid” given the continued use of virtual and blended learning. But she also pleaded for greater compassion for student well-being, noting that many still face pandemic-related burdens on physical and emotional health.
“When discussing integrity strategies, I urge these groups to keep student ease and sanity in mind,” Beraki wrote to The News. “It’s about striking a balance between making sure students understand the material/do their own work, and that student well-being isn’t sacrificed for grades or academic rules.”
Beraki also said the YCC is currently advocating for expanded hybrid options to accommodate students who are immunocompromised, contacted, or facing health issues. In January, several immunocompromised students spoke to News and said they felt unsafe in the classroom as the virus spread across the Yale campus.
Hunter also noted the continued effects of the pandemic on classroom learning as well as the possibility that new variants will force increased hybridization over the coming semesters.
“Even when we go back into the classroom, there will be things that will be legacy effects of this pandemic that will be really hard to get rid of,” Hunter said.
At the same Thursday meeting, faculty senators met with Director of Strategic Projects Peter Schiffer about potential accommodations for junior faculty who face the tenure clock amid interrupted research activity for the pandemic. Schiffer wrote to the News that accommodations are still being determined. The senators responded positively, said Senate Speaker Valerie Horsley.
“We emphasized that we must understand that when evaluating colleagues affected by the pandemic, we must consider how they did under these extraordinary circumstances, not how they did with the extra time,” Horsley wrote to the News. “The ‘bar’ of excellence should include a consideration of impact.”
Also at the meeting, the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Lynn Cooley, provided an update on a number of GSAS initiatives. The school, which undertook a cost-of-living analysis for graduate students living in New Haven last fall, strives to raise its benefits above the cost of living. Although stipends are increasing in all areas, graduate students in the humanities and social sciences, who have received lower amounts in recent years compared to science researchers, will see their stipends increase at an accelerated rate. Cooley also announced that the school would hire a mental health counselor in partnership with Yale Health.
The FAS Senate was first elected in 2015.