Inappropriate Collaboration

Introduction

The University of Manitoba treats cases of inappropriate collaboration and other forms of academic dishonesty, very seriously. Honesty and fairness are fundamental aspects of the University's mission. As a result, any member of the University community who violates these principles is dealt with as if he/she is damaging the integrity of the University itself. If you have been accused of inappropriate collaboration or a similar scholastic offence, you may be surprised at how formally and seriously the accusation is dealt with and how severe the consequences can be. Students may be sanctioned or disciplinary action may be taken under the Student Discipline bylaw.

Purpose of this page is to

  • Help you understand what inappropriate collaboration is so you can avoid committing this offence inadvertently;
  • Help, if you have been accused of inappropriate collaboration.

The student's responsibility

It is the responsibility of the student to:

  • Know the rules; ignorance of the rules does not excuse inappropriate collaboration or any other form of cheating.
  • Ensure that your work is original and 100% a result of your effort and yours alone.
  • Understand what constitutes inappropriate collaboration. Always ask your professor if you are unsure.
  • The syllabus or the course web site should outline your professor's expectations. The specific assignment instructions should also be helpful.
  • Never guess or assume. Always ask and be sure.

What is collaboration?

Collaboration can include, but is not limited to:

  • jointly calculating homework problems;
  • having another person help you rewrite a paper;
  • sharing sources for a take-home exam;
  • working in a group on a lab or computer assignment;
  • "debugging" another student's computer program;
  • checking homework answers with others.

Why limit or prohibit collaboration?

Inappropriate collaboration is unethical because it:

  • misrepresents joint work as an individual's work;
  • gives people who break the rules an unjust advantage and results in unfair competition;
  • prevents learning (those who work with others on an assignment are not gaining all the knowledge and skills that they would be from doing the entire assignment on their own).

When is collaboration inappropriate?

When students work together or share information without specific instructions by the professor, this constitutes inappropriate collaboration. This applies to in-class or take-home tests, papers, labs, or homework assignments; basically, any assignment that will be submitted for a grade. Students should not collaborate unless the professor has given specific instructions about group work and when this is permissible.

What are the "ground rules"?

  • You should follow the directions of your professor with regard to working independently or in a group.
  • You should only work with other students to the extent that is specified by your professor.
  • If you are not sure about what your professor's expectations are, ask before choosing to work with someone else.
  • Even if your professor permits students to collaborate on an assignment it is never ethical to copy someone's work or to let them copy yours.

If you have been accused of inappropriate collaboration:

Control your angry feelings. It is a common reaction to feel anger toward the person who alleges that you have cheated. It is important that you master these feelings to prevent you from saying or doing something you may later regret.

Be honest. Always answer questions honestly, as it is your professor's obligation to determine the truth. Your honesty may be taken into consideration when determining the penalty assigned if you are found guilty.
Know your rights. There is an appeal process available to you, should you find the case was handled improperly by others. You are also able to see a Student Advocate to receive help or advice in the preliminary stages of an investigation.

What is the next step?

Meet with a Student Advocate;

  • A meeting with disciplinary authority (normally the Department Head) will take place;
  • This will be an opportunity for both sides to present their issues and for a determination of academic dishonesty (inappropriate collaboration) to be made;
  • The disciplinary authority will then make several decisions regarding the allegations.
  • The situation may result in a warning or a penalty;
  • If this is judged to be a serious breach of academic integrity, the case may be referred to the dean's office or beyond.

Disciplinary Actions

If you are found guilty of the offence, the disciplinary action assigned to you may vary according to the following factors:

  • Was he or she honest and cooperative during the investigation?
  • Is he or she genuinely sorry for committing the offence?
  • Was it planned or was it an impulse?
  • Were there extenuating circumstances to consider?
  • Was this behaviour a detriment to the University?
  • Were other students unduly compromised?
  • Has the student done this before?
  • Was the student aware that his or her actions were dishonest?

The professor who brought the allegation against the student cannot impose a disciplinary action (Student Discipline Bylaw). He or she must refer the matter to the department head or dean.

The Student Discipline Bylaw outlines the specific disciplinary actions available for each disciplinary authority.

There is no rule about which disciplinary actions are applied for which violations, but there are patterns in the ways that disciplinary actions have been applied in the past. Patterns are not rules and disciplinary authorities are free to depart from them.

Disciplinary actions can include:

  • a reprimand;
  • student being required to repeat and re-submit the assignment;
  • a failing grade on the assignment;
  • "F" in course (usually for a first offence);
  • sometimes a course specific notation, (DISC) may be added to the transcript;
  • suspension for one year or more;
  • notation on student transcript (this may be removed at the request of the student after the time period has elapsed).
  • expulsion- permanent withdrawal from the university.

Can I appeal? How?

Yes, students do have the right to appeal the disciplinary matter, the disciplinary action, or both. The Student Advocacy office can assist you in your appeal process. The process normally involves writing a letter to the appropriate authority explaining your situation, followed by attendance at a hearing where a committee will hear your case.
The first level of the appeal is the Local Discipline Committee (L.D.C.), which is assembled to hear appeals at the faculty level. If you are not satisfied with the outcome at this level, you may appeal further to the University Discipline Committee (U.D.C.), which hears appeals of L.D.C. decisions or decisions made from other disciplinary authorities such as residence appeal committees.

How to avoid inappropriate collaboration

You can protect yourself from being charged with inappropriate collaboration by taking the initiative to prevent it:

  • Know the rules. You should know exactly what your professor expects from you on each assignment.
  • Do not work with another student on any assignment unless specifically authorized by your professor to do so.
  • Acknowledge all assistance received. This includes help from friends or others in terms of proofreading, suggestions, or information.
  • Do not submit work that is not entirely yours. If you have copied or borrowed ideas from another student then the work is not entirely yours.
  • Do not lend your work to other students unless you are absolutely certain that they will not use it dishonestly–even then, think again.
  • Ask your professor. When in doubt about any practice, ask! Do not rely on information from friends, relatives, or fellow students about what is acceptable. If they are mistaken, it is you who will have to deal with the consequences.

Frequently asked questions and answers

Q. Can I withdraw from a course while my case is in progress?

A. Students are not normally allowed to withdraw from the course in which they are suspected of committing an offence until a final decision on the case has been made. As well, you may not withdraw from the course once disciplinary action (penalty) is assigned in order to avoid same. You may, however, still be able to withdraw from other courses if they are not related to the offence. If it is a serious case, you may not be permitted to change any courses until the investigation is completed.

Q. Can I get my degree while the case is being investigated?

A. The University will not award you any degree, diploma, or certificate until the final decision on your case has been made. You will be able to use university facilities, unless there is a valid reason to bar you and you can usually continue to be registered to take courses. You may be put on a "hold" status to prevent you from being able to request your transcript and subsequently transfer to another institution. Your student status stands while your situation is under investigation or appeal.

Q. Will this be recorded on my transcript?

A. That depends on whether part of the disciplinary action includes a transcript notation of academic dishonesty. If so, it will be up to the discretion of the decision-maker to determine the length of the notation up to 5 years. A student can make a request, after a certain length of time, to have this notation removed. The Student Advocacy office can assist with this request.

Resources

The Student Advocacy office offers presentations and workshops on academic integrity and related topics. We maintain the Student Discipline website that provides helpful information for faculty and staff handling a discipline case. Visit us at umanitoba.ca/student/advocacy for more information and to view our educational materials including online tutorials.

Student Advocacy gratefully acknowledges the following resources:

  • Working the System Series, University of Toronto "Accused of Cheating?
  • Student Judicial Affairs, September 1999

Revised April 2013, online version