It is important to distinguish between actual rates of misconduct and rates of reporting for misconduct.
Overrepresentation from equity-deserving groups?
Issues relating to equity, diversity, inclusion, decolonization, and Indigenization have been neglected in studies and practices related to academic and scientific integrity. My interest in this topic was sparked when Tracey Bretag delivered a workshop called Academic Integrity and Embracing Diversity at the Canadian Symposium on Academic Integrity in 2019. In particular, I was struck by evidence from Australia pointing to the overrepresentation in student misconduct cases. Overrepresentation in student conduct happens when people from one or more groups are reported for misconduct disproportionately more than their representation in the overall student body. For example, if students who speak English as an Additional Language comprise 20% of the overall student population, but make up 40% of the group reported for academic cheating, that is overrepresentation. In Canada, much has been written about the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system, but there has been almost no research to understand overrepresentation in student misconduct cases among people from equity-deserving groups.
Getting reported for cheating more often
It is important to distinguish between actual rates of misconduct and rates of reporting for misconduct. Bretag and her colleagues in Australia found that students who spoke a language other than English were more likely to be identified as having engaged in contract cheating (the practice of outsourcing one’s academic work to a third party). A study from the United States showed that international students were five times more likely to be reported for academic misconduct. A small study from the UK found that Black students were five times more likely than white students to be reported for academic misconduct. We need to be clear that these statistics do not necessarily mean that students from these demographic groups are cheating more, but instead that they are getting reported for cheating more often.
It is quite possible that domestic students and who are white women who are also native speakers of English could be more likely to be forgiven for misconduct without ever being reported.
Patterns of reporting student misconduct
When we read studies like these, we can start to see patterns beginning to emerge, particularly in countries where English is the language of instruction. One possibility is that the group mostly likely to be reported for academic misconduct are international students who are men of colour and for whom English is an additional language. In contrast, it is quite possible that domestic students and who are white women who are also native speakers of English could be more likely to be forgiven for misconduct without ever being reported.
There is further evidence to show that after receiving a formal penalty for academic misconduct, international students were less likely to be retained at their university. It is not clear if this means that international students were more likely to be suspended, expelled, or drop out, but nevertheless the correlation between student retention rates with those who have been reported for academic misconduct is a topic that merits further study.
There is an urgent need to advocate for more equitable practices when it comes to reporting and addressing allegations of student misconduct.
We need more evidence to substantiate these claims on a large scale, but we also cannot ignore emerging patterns in the available evidence. What we do know points to the possibility of bias and discrimination in faculty reporting practices related to student cheating and other types of misconduct. This debate is not new. In the first year IJEI was published in 2005, Sue Saltmarsh wrote a compelling essay about racism against international students, particularly with regards to how plagiarism is understood and reported. Since then, we have come a long way in advocating for data-based approaches to addressing systemic barriers and discrimination, but we still have more work to do.
We need more demographic student data
I have previously advocated for more demographic data to be collected in reported cases of student misconduct cases in higher education. The purpose of collecting such data needs to be aligned with human rights principles that advocate for demographic data collection for the purposes of:
- identifying systemic discrimination
- dismantling systems that perpetuate disadvantage among historically marginalized populations
- promoting equity
Researchers in Canada have identified that there has been a reluctance to collect demographic student data related to student success, but that a “lack of data does not mean lack of a problem.” As Dr. Malinda Smith, Vice Provost of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the University has pointed out, “racism denial…. helps to sustain an environment in which racism remains unchecked.”
The need for more equity in reporting and addressing allegations of misconduct
There is an urgent need to advocate for more equitable practices when it comes to reporting and addressing allegations of student misconduct. This advocacy must be evidence-based, meaning that we need more data to understand how overrepresentation and bias impact the reporting and management of student misconduct cases. If we are going to talk about prioritizing equity, diversity, inclusion, decolonization, and Indigenization on post-secondary campuses, we need to ensure that this commitment extends to matters of student conduct not only with words, but with evidence-based actions, policies, and practices.