10.2 Procedures for Dealing with Student Academic Dishonesty

This policy was last updated December 18, 2023. See the update history page for more information.

MIT assumes that all students come to the Institute for a serious purpose and expects them to be responsible individuals who demand of themselves high standards of honesty and personal conduct. Cheating, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, deliberate interference with the integrity of the work of others, fabrication or falsification of data, and other forms of academic dishonesty are considered serious offenses for which disciplinary penalties can be imposed.

Some academic offenses by students may be handled directly between the faculty member and student, possibly with the assistance of the head of the faculty member's department.

The following are suggestions for how faculty members and departments can communicate their expectations of academic conduct and how they can handle violations of those expectations.

10.2.1 Communicating Faculty Expectations

At the beginning of each term, faculty members are encouraged to make clear to the students in their classes their expectations regarding permissible academic conduct. It is important that this be done in the context of their specific subjects.

Some expectations are obvious; students should realize they are expected not to copy other students' responses during quizzes, or to represent term papers written by others as their own work. There are gray areas, however, in which the standards can vary from subject to subject and from department to department.

Particularly ambiguous areas are collaboration on problem sets and other homework assignments and the use of old solution sets or lab reports. Because homework assignments have two roles — helping students learn the material and helping instructors evaluate academic performance — it is not always obvious how much collaboration or assistance from old materials, if any, the instructor expects.

It is therefore important for faculty members to explain as precisely as possible their expectations about the nature and extent of any collaboration or assistance from old materials they permit or encourage. Where assistance from old materials is expected, the instructor should be certain that the materials are equally available to all students.

In addition, some students may be accustomed to different cultural values and priorities with respect to academic honesty. This increases the need for clearly stated expectations.

10.2.2 Departmental Handling of Violations

Within each department, there should be a senior member of the faculty, such as the department head, who can provide guidance to faculty members and to students in cases of suspected academic dishonesty. In particular, this individual should be able to give advice about the alternative courses of action that are available, about the norms of fairness within the department and throughout the Institute, and about the rights of students. In addition, staff in the Office of the Vice Chancellor (OVC) and the Divison of Student Life (DSL), as well as the ombudspersons, are available for consultation with students, faculty, and department heads.

When a faculty member believes that a student has violated the expected standards of academic conduct, it is generally advisable to arrange to talk privately with the student as soon as possible. The request for a meeting should be in writing; before the meeting, the suspected student should be informed that they have a right to come accompanied by any other member of the MIT community. At this meeting, the faculty member should explain the reason for believing that a breach of academic honesty has occurred and to give the student the opportunity to respond fully to all allegations. Appropriate effort should be made during this meeting to avoid an atmosphere in which the student feels harassed.

Prior to this meeting with the student, care should be taken to protect the student's privacy, especially since the facts will not yet have been determined. It is usually not advisable to discuss the incident with other faculty members, including the student's advisor, except to seek the kind of guidance referred to in the first paragraph of this section.

As a result of the discussion between the faculty member and the student, the faculty member may conclude that the student has, in fact, behaved dishonestly and may wish to take some further action.

The faculty member may decide to take a direct action (such as one of those described below) or to bring the case to the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) or to the Committee on Discipline (COD) for resolution. In making this choice, the faculty member should take into account such factors as the severity of the offense, the attitude of the student, and the amount of uncertainty that exists over the facts.

Before making a decision (but after meeting with the student), the faculty member may wish to check with the OSC to determine if the student has received any previous warning letters as the result of academic dishonesty. If the faculty member defers making a decision for this reason, the student should be told when to expect to be notified of the decision.

Among the direct actions that the faculty member may wish to take are the following:

  1. Reduced grade. The faculty member will probably want to assign the student a grade that reflects only the work that the student actually did. If the misconduct of the student is sufficiently serious, or if the student has received previous warning letters about such misconduct, the faculty member should refer the present case to the OSC or to the COD.
  2. Redo assignment or exam. In cases where the faculty member is not sure that the student has intentionally acted dishonestly, but where the amount of independent work performed by the student is clearly inadequate, the faculty member may want to ask the student to complete a substitute assignment or exam. This would be appropriate, for example, when there is an honest misunderstanding about the degree of collaboration that a faculty member permits.

If the faculty member handles the case, the faculty member should inform the student that if they disagree with the faculty member's disposition of the incident, it can be reviewed by the head of the department. Further review may be requested of the dean of the appropriate School.

If the COD handles the case, the case will be decided in accordance with the COD Rules and Regulations. The COD may seek guidance and assistance from the Office of the Vice President for Research. The COD’s decision is generally final, subject to appeals to the Chancellor in limited circumstances. See Appeals under the COD Rules and Regulations. 

In certain cases students supported by federal funds may be subject to procedures required by federal agencies. For more information, consult the Supplement to MIT Procedures Dealing with Academic Misconduct available from the Office of the Vice President for Research.