Skip to main content

more options

Guidelines for

the instructor

As an instructor, you may suspect one or more students of violating the Code of Academic Integrity. This web page provides guidelines and explanations that will help you determine whether and how to pursue academic integrity proceedings.

You may be reluctant to initiate academic integrity proceedings, preferring instead to direct your energies to your chief academic responsibilities: teaching, research, and service. However, all instructors share responsibility for following through, according to the Code guidelines, when they have reason to believe that students may have violated the Code.

Remember also that, unlike some of our peer institutions, our academic integrity procedures are in the hands of the faculty. We the faculty, through the Faculty Senate, are responsible for the Code.

When the procedures are followed, the process flows smoothly, repeat violations are kept to a minimum, and the message gets out to students that we the faculty are serious about academic integrity.

What if you are unsure about how to proceed?

If you are unsure of how to proceed when you believe that one or more students may have violated the Code, your first step should be to review the Code, which presents the policies and procedures that guide all members of the Cornell community. Any course of conduct that you follow should be consistent with the Code.

If the Code is silent on an issue, or if you are unsure of what something in the Code means, consult with more experienced colleagues or the chair of the Academic Integrity Hearing Board (AIHB) of your college. During these discussions, avoid identifying the student who you think violated the code. Your department chair or any experienced colleague should be able to help you contact the AIHB chair.

Here is a brief introduction to the steps involved when you believe that one or more students have violated the Code.

  1. You summon the student to a primary hearing, the purpose of which is for you to investigate whether the student violated the Code, as the evidence before you suggests. You must provide the student with at least one week’s notice. If the student requests that you hold the primary hearing sooner, you may do so.
  2. You arrange with your department chair or college’s AIHB chair to have an independent witness attend the primary hearing. (The independent witness is an impartial observer and therefore should not be connected with the course in which the violation occurred.) Other people may attend the primary hearing, as explained later.
  3. During the primary hearing, you present your evidence, the student responds, and you two discuss the case.
  4. You decide whether the student is guilty. If you find the student guilty, you decide on a penalty. The only penalties available to you are grade-related. (If you feel that the student’s violation is so egregious that a grade-related penalty is insufficient, ask your college’s AIHB chair to convene an AIHB hearing. If the AIHB finds the student guilty, the AIHB can recommend non-grade related penalties to the dean, e.g. a note on the transcript, expulsion, suspension, or a leave of absence.)
  5. At the close of the primary hearing, you may communicate your decision to the student. Or you may take time to deliberate—perhaps overnight—after you have had time to reflect and perhaps to consult more experienced colleague or your college’s AIHB chair.
  6. You write a letter and communicate your decision to the student and to your college’s AIHB record-keeper.

Basics of primary hearings

How do you decide to hold a primary hearing?

You may believe that a student may have violated the Code based on a variety of factors. You may have observed suspicious conduct, or TAs, colleagues, staff members, or other students may have told you about suspicious activities. You may even have received anonymous reports of suspected violations.

In order to determine whether a violation has occurred, you may hold an informal discussion with the student (but you do not have to). This informal discussion does not constitute a primary hearing. Even if a student admits the offense during an informal discussion, you cannot assign a penalty without holding a primary hearing.

We have a separate page to explain the procedures for penalizing a student for academic misconduct, such as disrupting the class by loud and obnoxious behavior.

A simple careless act may not be a violation of the Code. For example, if a student forgets to put in a footnote, you might penalize the student in the normal course of grading, but do not charge the student with a violation of the Code.

On the other hand, do not excuse a real violation simply because the student did not understand the rules: your course guidelines, the Code guidelines, plagiarism guidelines, and the like. Ignorance or lack of understanding is no excuse. Student should usually assume that any work that they submit for academic credit should be the product of their own effort. If you permit or encourage collaboration for assignments, make clear what degree of collaboration is permitted. If the students are unsure of how much, if any, collaboration is permitted, they should ask you or the TAs in the course.

What notification guidelines should you follow?

If you believe that a student may have violated the Code, summon the student to a primary hearing—via a letter, memo, or email. Within the written message, describe the general nature of the charge; identify the hearing date, time, and location; explain that the student has the right to introduce witnesses and evidence; and explain that a Judicial Codes Counselor may be available to assist the student. Here is a sample letter.

  • The charge. Your letter should at least briefly explain the nature of the suspected offense. You need not provide all the detail and evidence that prompted you to hold a hearing, but provide enough information so that the student can prepare to respond to your charge—by preparing an explanation, marshalling relevant evidence, arranging for witnesses, and the like.
  • The date, time, and location. You must provide the student with at least seven days’ notice so that the student has sufficient time to prepare. It is reasonable to communicate beforehand with the student to work out a time that is convenient to both of you (and other attendees).

After receiving the notice, the student should reply and either confirm the hearing time or request a change in schedule:

  • A student may waive the right to seven days’ notice and ask the instructor to conduct the hearing sooner. The instructor may agree do so.
  • A student who has an academic conflict that would prevent attending at the scheduled time should notify you and request a different date or time.

Since the primary hearing is designed to be informal, you may hold it in your office. If your office is unsuitable, any other room conducive to professional, but informal and private, conversation will suffice.

  • The right to introduce witnesses and evidence. Your summons should make clear that the student may introduce any witnesses, including character witnesses, and any other evidence that may help to establish the student’s innocence.
  • The availability of procedural advice. The Judicial Codes Counselors (JCC), a law student employed by Cornell University who is familiar with the various University policies and procedures, is available to help members of the Cornell community. Contact information for JCCs is in the possible letter to the student.

If, without prior notice and good reason, a student does not appear for a primary hearing that you scheduled according to the guidelines above, you may proceed with the hearing, drawing whatever conclusions and making whatever decisions you think are appropriate concerning guilt and penalties, subject to Code limitations.

Who attends the primary hearing?

You, the student, and an independent witness attend the primary hearing. You and the student may bring other people, as mentioned below.

  • Ask your department chair or the AIHB chair to appoint an independent witness: a faculty member or student who will observe the proceedings impartially and may take written notes (which may be substantive, procedural, or both). The independent witness should not be connected with the course in which the violation occurred. The Code states, "The function of the independent witness is to observe the proceedings impartially, and in the event of an appeal from the judgment of the faculty member, be prepared to testify as to the procedures followed" The independent witness is not involved in the questioning or deliberation but is only an observer, whose presence serves as a brake upon improper behavior by you or the student. If the student appeals your decision to the AIHB, the independent witness may have to testify as to what happened during the hearing. This letter describes the responsibilities of the independent witness.
  • You may invite other individuals—e.g. students, TAs, or other members of the university community—who have information bearing on the case.
  • The student may bring evidence, as well as witnesses who have information bearing on the case.
  • The student may bring an advisor.

Usually, the student's advisor will be a member of the university community (e.g. a Judicial Codes Counselor (JCC), a faculty member, or administrator), but the student may choose as an advisor a parent or an attorney.

  • If a student’s advisor is a parent, you might ask the student the purpose of the parent’s presence; based on the answer, determine whether to permit the parent to attend.
  • It would be highly unusual for a student to bring an attorney to a primary hearing, because the presence of attorneys may chill what is designed to be an informal discussion between members of the university community. If the student brings an attorney as an advisor, you may request the presence of an attorney from the Office of University Counsel and may adjourn the hearing in order to do so.
  • if a parent or lawyer does attend, that person should not be speaking on behalf of the student or intervene or otherwise upset the proceedings. You control the hearing, and if you think that person is out of order, warn them; if they persist, you may ask them to leave the hearing.

What is the role of the student's advisor?

The Code reads, "The student’s advisor may assist the student in the presentation and questioning.” Generally, the student should not expect the advisor to present the student’s defense. That role is always primarily the student’s.

What happens during the primary hearing?

Although a primary hearing is a serious investigative proceeding, it usually unfolds as an informal but focused conversation between you and the student, in the presence of the independent witness. The hearing is designed so that you can gather information and the student can respond to the charge. Your chief goals are to determine whether the student violated the Code and, if so, to determine the penalty to assign.

The typical procedure is as follows. You present the evidence to support your charge. This may include statements from witnesses of the alleged violation and any other evidence. You give the student the opportunity to respond to the evidence presented and present evidence to refute the charge. This evidence may include statements from witnesses who were at the scene of the alleged violation, character witnesses, or any other evidence. Both you and the student may pose questions to witnesses.

Generally, you will communicate the finding (guilty or not guilty) and the penalty to the student at the close of the hearing and follow up with a written message summarizing in broad terms what transpired during the hearing, who attended, and what you decided. 

Occasionally, you may want additional time to deliberate, to consult further, or to conduct primary hearings with other students who may be involved in the case. If you need more time, tell the student you will get back to the student soon, in writing. Then, make every effort to proceed expeditiously and communicate the decision to the student at the earliest opportunity.

How persuasive does the evidence have to be?

You must determine whether the evidence that the student has violated the Code is clear and convincing. The Code reads, "'Clear and convincing,' as a standard of proof, refers to a quantum of evidence beyond a mere preponderance but below that characterized as 'beyond a reasonable doubt' and such that it will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief as to the facts sought to be established.”

That is, the evidence should produce a “firm belief” in your mind that the student did in fact violate the Code. If you decide that there is clear and convincing evidence to support the charge, find the student guilty. If you decide that the evidence evidence is not clear and convincing, find the student innocent and dismiss the charge.

How do you deal with prospective witnesses, and do they have to attend the hearing?

Try to arrange to have all witnesses available during a hearing, so that they can present their accounts, the student or you can respond, and you can determine how much weight to assign to the witnesses' accounts.

You are acting as an officer/agent of Cornell when investigating an academic integrity charge, so you have the authority to request that a student, staff, or faculty member appear as a witness at a hearing. However, the university does not have subpoena power, so attendance cannot be compelled. (Faculty and administrators have a duty to cooperate, and deans may use a more coercive form of persuasion.)

You might best proceed by inviting prospective witnesses to attend and explain why their presence is important. If they do not want to attend, use persuasion, rather than coercion, to seek compliance.

If you are unsuccessful in eliciting attendance, the second best option would be to obtain written statements from them. Because the Code does not specify that a student being charged has the right to confront witnesses who provide evidence, you and the student may introduce evidence from witnesses who are unable or unwilling to be present.

If witnesses decline, you may proceed in their absence and in the absence of their written statements. You may summarize what you learned from them.

If prospective witnesses request anonymity, try to persuade them to reveal their identity, in order to be most fair and forthcoming to the student being charged. You may consider an account from an anonymous witness only in extraordinary circumstances.

No matter how information from witnesses is presented during the primary hearing, the student should be given the opportunity to respond. Based on the witness information and the responses, you will exercise your own judgment determining how much weight to assign to the witness account.

Can a student waive the right to a primary hearing?

Do not allow the student to waive the right to a primary hearing. Instead, if the student is willing to admit guilt, let the student waive the right to a week's notice for the hearing, bring in an independent witness, and hold a short primary hearing—and do not forget to notify the AIHB of the outcome. Allowing a student to waive the right to a primary hearing is not a good idea, because then there is no record.


What penalty can you impose?

You can impose only penalties that affect the student's grade in the course. The lowest penalty available is no penalty. The highest penalty available is an F in the course. The penalty may be somewhere in between, depending on the severity of the offense.

The penalty may involve the assignment or exam in question, the final course grade, or both. For example,

  • As a grade-related penalty involving an assignment, you may assign no credit for the assignment, partial credit, or a reduction in the grade for the assignment.
  • As a grade-related penalty involving the course grade, you may assign an F in the course or reduce the grade (e.g. A to A-, A to B, A to C).

On what basis might you determine penalties?

Although the Code offers no specific guidelines concerning what penalties might be appropriate for what violations, you will typically consider a variety of issues:

  • the severity of the violation;
  • the degree of intentionality and forethought in committing the violation;
  • the impact of the violation on other students;
  • whether the violation occurred after an unofficial warning about academic integrity;
  • whether the student has been fully truthful during the investigation;
  • whether the student demonstrates contrition and accepts responsibility for the violation;
  • whether you believe the student has learned from this set of events and is unlikely to violate the Code again;
  • whether the student was subject to pressure or extenuating circumstances beyond the student's control at the time of violation.

To ensure that your penalties are consistent with others given in the past, talk to colleagues or to your college's AIHB chair.

What if you think a grade penalty is not adeqate?

If you believe that a grade penalty is not adequate, refer the case to the AIHB. Examples are violations that harm other individuals—such as when a student steals and submits a classmate’s assignment or exam, forges documents, or participates in any kind of fraudulent activity.

In such situations, you have two options:

  • Conduct the primary hearing and then refer the case to the AIHB.
  • Bypass the primary hearing and refer the case directly to the AIHB. This makes sense only if you have clear evidence of guilt, because you are going to have to present the case at the AIHB hearing. If there is any doubt, hold a primary hearing to help you determine the facts.

To arrange for a board hearing, contact the chair of the AIHB of your college and coordinate with the chair to schedule the Board hearing and summon the student.

After the hearing

What happens after the primary hearing?

Different activities may follow a primary hearing, depending on whether you find the student not guilty or guilty:

  • If you find the student not guilty, notify the student in writing. The case ends here. No records of the incident are kept. Here is a form letter to a student that is found not guilty.
  • If you find the student guilty, notify the student of the finding and of the penalty that you assign. Although you may notify the student in person, you must also provide the student with a letter that documents your decisions. You must also share the letter with your college’s AIHB record keeper and AIHB chair. Here is a form letter to a student that is found guilty, and here is an example of a report to the AIHB.

[Note: The Code says to immmediately report a violation to the record keeper of the faculty member's AIHB. This should actually be the record keeper of the AIHB of the college that offers the course. A faculty member may be teaching a course for a different college.]

Your letter should contain a brief description of the charge, the hearing date, decision, penalty, and the names of everyone who attended the hearing. (If the student is enrolled in a college different from the one in which the violation took place, your college’s record keeper will send your letter to the record keeper of the student’s college.) 

The AIHB Chair may choose to write a letter to the student. In some colleges at Cornell, this letter is routinely written to all students convicted of a violation.

Can the student appeal your decision?

The Code says that the student can appeal your decision to the AIHB of your college on three grounds:

  • The student believes the procedure was improper or unfair and that the procedural violations may have influenced the outcome of the case.
  • The student contests your finding of guilt.
  • The student believes the penalty that you imposed was too strict considering the offense.

If the student appeals and you have to submit a final grade before the appeal process is complete, submit a grade of INC (Incomplete). After the student’s appeals are exhausted, change the INC to a regular letter grade.

Can you offer the student incentives not to appeal?

Do not even think about it. It would be unethical to provide a incentive for not appealing, such as telling the student you will reduce the penalty if the student agrees not to appeal.

An appeal to the AIHB is the one way in which a student can claim a kind of freedom from the direct authority that you hold in the primary hearing and in the course, and the student's freedom to appeal must be protected.

The Cornell Faculty Handbook (Chap. 5, page 82) says that, "Grading must not be arbitrary or capricious or influenced by illegal discriminatory considerations." Offering incentives for not appealing would be improper.

Upon hearing about the offer of such incentives, the AIHB—or anyone else—might ask your dean to investigate and change the grade if the dean found your action improper.

Special issues with primary hearings

What if the JCC is not available to assist the student?

Seriously consider a student's request to schedule (or reschedule) a hearing so that a JCC can attend, but you are not bound to grant it. Students should be advised that the JCC is a resource but not guaranteed to be available for any particular hearing. In considering the request, consider the availability of all parties and witnesses. AIHB proceedings are not limited by the JCC’s schedule.

The student may, of course, bring another advisor to the hearing if the JCC is not available.

If several students are involved, should you hold separate primary hearings?

The Code is silent with respect to cases in which you charge more than one student with an academic integrity violation. Exercise your best judgment in determining whether to conduct separate hearings or a joint hearing. You may feel that by questioning all the charged students during one hearing, you can best determine who did what, when, why, and how. On the other hand, holding separate hearings, perhaps back to back, might give you a better chance to find inconsistencies in the students' statements.

If a student objects to a joint hearing and demonstrates that a joint hearing would be unfair, cause prejudice, or harm the student's privacy, schedule separate hearings. Generally, err on the side of caution and grant a request for a separate hearing unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.

In a primary hearing with more than one student charged with a violation present, consider individually the guilt or innocence of each student, as well as penalties.

What if it is too late to give a one-week notice of a primary hearing before the semester ends?

You have several options in this situation. Keep in mind that it is best to settle the case as soon as possible but that you have to be fair to the student:

  • Check whether the student is willing to waive the one-week notice; if the student agrees, schedule and hold the primary hearing.
  • Provide the student with a one-week notice and conduct a primary hearing on the scheduled date. (You may schedule a hearing for the study period or during finals week. You may even need ask the student to stay longer than planned or to return to campus after departing.)
  • Schedule the hearing as soon as possible after the student will return for the subsequent semester, e.g. during the registration period before classes begin or during the first few days of the semester.

If you or the student will not be back at Cornell during the ensuing semester—e.g. because you are leaving or because the student will be on required or voluntary leave, studying abroad, participating in an internship, or graduating—do your best to conduct the hearing before the end of the semester. Contact the AIHB chair for advice.

If you need to submit a course grade before the primary hearing, submit and INC (incomplete) grade. Change the INC to a regular letter grade after the academic integrity proceedings conclude.

Miscellaneous issues

What grade should be recorded if a case is pending at the end of the semester?

If you must submit a grade for student who has been charged with an academic integrity violation, submit the grade INC (incomplete) unless one of the following applies:

  1. all hearings and appeals have been completed, or
  2. the time for all appeals has passed, or
  3. the student has given written notice that an appeal will not be forthcoming.

If you submitted a grade INC, as soon as one of the above three points is satisfied, change the grade.

What if a violation appears to involve a student who is not in your course?

If you believe that a student who is not currently enrolled in your course may have been party to a Code violation involving your course, consider either of the following options: (1) conduct a primary hearing (as you would for a student enrolled in your course) or (2) ask your college’s AIHB chair to hold a board hearing.

  • If you hold a primary hearing and find the student guilty, you cannot assign a penalty because only grade-related penalties are available to you. You have two options:
    • Impose no penalty but notify your college's AIHB record keeper that the student has been found guilty of a violation. All findings of guilt must be sent to the AIHB record keeper.
    • Refer the case to the AIHB so that they can determine a suitable penalty. The procedures for this option would be identical to those described for any hearing.
  • If you ask your college’s AIHB Chair to summon the student to a board hearing, the AIHB will hear the case de novo, as they do in all board hearings.

What if a student charged with (or found guilty of) a violation drops the course?

The Code (Sec. II.B.4.g) reads, “A student charged with violating the Code of Academic Integrity in a course may not drop that course without the consent of the instructor unless the student has subsequently been cleared of the charges.”

If such a student drops your course without your permission, contact the registrar of the student’s college and request that the student be manually re-enrolled. Ask the AIHB Chair of your college for help, if necessary.

What if a student dropped your course before you learned of the student's violation?

If a student legitimately drops your course and, afterward, you discover evidence that the student may have violated the Code, summon the student to a hearing as you would for students who remain enrolled in your course.

  • If, after the hearing, you find the student not guilty, no records are kept, and no penalties ensue.
  • If you find the student guilty and want to assign a grade-related penalty, you may need to contact the registrar of the student’s college and arrange for the student to be re-enrolled in your course. However, this may not be fair to the student, for so much time may have elapsed between the student's dropping the course and the primary hearing that the student cannot catch up with the material in the course.
  • If you find the student guilty and want to assign a non-grade-related penalty, contact the AIHB, as usual.

What if a student asks you to reconsider the finding of guilt?

Once a student has been found guilty of an academic integrity violation, the finding of guilt can be overturned only by the AIHB. If a student contacts you with additional evidence that might persuade you to overturn your earlier finding of guilty, choose one of these alternatives:

  • Decline to meet with the student and encourage the student to appeal to the AIHB with the additional evidence.
  • Convene a follow-up primary hearing to consider the new evidence.

If you are not persuaded by the new evidence, you may still encourage the student to appeal to the AIHB. If you are persuaded that the guilty finding should be overturned, forward the matter for review and approval by the AIHB, with a statement setting forth why the board should overturn the earlier finding.

Preventing and dealing with violations

What AI-related responsibilities do your TAs have?

An undergraduate or graduate student who is supporting you in a course, or a graduate student fully responsible for teaching a course, is responsible for maintaining university guidelines for academic integrity and must uphold community values concerning academic integrity.

An undergraduate or graduate student who is supporting you in a course should notify you of any suspected misbehavior among students. You, not the TA, are responsible for investigating and determining whether to bring charges.

A graduate student who is responsible for teaching a course should pursue possible academic integrity violations just as you would. The student should consult with more experienced instructors or the AIHB chair.

Students supporting you in your course are expected to maintain academic integrity as they carry out their own academic pursuits. They are accountable for violations they commit in connection with the course. For example, if a TA provides students with inappropriate assistance, the TA may be brought up on academic integrity charges.

You could educate your TAs as to their responsibilities with regard to academic integrity:

  • TAs could remind students of relevant academic integrity guidelines and address areas that may be ambiguous, e.g. which assignments are collaborative or individual, and when and to what degree students may assist one another.
  • TAs could help you prevent violations by identifying places where students may be confused about academic integrity guidelines or places where students may be inclined to take undue shortcuts.
  • TAs should inform you when the see behavior that may violate academic integrity.

How should you handle behavior that violates the Code during an exam?

If someone proctoring an exam sees behavior that suggests that students may be violating the Code, exercise discretion. Try to avoid publicly calling attention to the students. However, you may make a public announcement to the entire class reminding them to keep their eyes on their own papers and shield their papers from nearby classmates.

The exam proctors should be told ahead of time to bring to your attention unusual and suspicious behavior. You and the proctors could use these approaches during the exam when you see suspicious behavior:

  • Bring the behavior to the attention of other proctors and ask them to watch carefully to verify what the original proctor saw.
  • Write down, as soon as possible, the unusual and suspicious behavior.
  • Discretely ask the student for notes or other inappropriate aids that the student was using.
  • Speak to the student (in private or in a whisper) and arrange for the student to change seats: to a spot where the student would not have easy access to the exams of any other students.
  • When the exams are handed in, set aside those of the students that may be violating the Code for later examination.