Academic Honesty Policy

Grinnell's Department of Computer Science has high expectations of Grinnell computer science majors and students in Grinnell computer science courses. Like all departments at Grinnell, we expect students to follow standards of academic honesty and to abide by the course rules and guidelines as stated in the course syllabus. However, experience suggests that students do not fully comprehend issues of academic honesty as they pertain to computer science. In this document, we explain our perspective and provide some examples.

Academically honest behavior is core to the academic mission. Members of the Grinnell community traffic in ideas, and it is important that these ideas receive proper credit. Members of the Grinnell community also care about the accuracy and reliability of ideas and data, and therefore object to actions that undermine such accuracy and reliability.

The Department of Computer Science also views academic honesty as an issue of professionalism -- we do not want to graduate computer scientists who put the public or their employers at risk by copying code without permission, by using code that they do not understand, by sharing information inappropriately, by pretending that their code works correctly when it does not, or by other violations. The professions that most our majors (and many other students in computer science courses) enter are full of occasions for unprofessional behavior that have grave consequences -- temptations that are often backed up with monetary incentives or significant organizational pressures. As a result, we work very hard to persuade our students of the importance of such academic virtues as love of truth for its own sake, accurate allocation of credit for new ideas, thoughtful consideration of the lives and interests of other people who may be affected by our decisions, candor, integrity, and humility.

What norms should we all observe in order to acquire and sustain these traits of character?

  • When we copy or adapt any part of a published work, or create a derivative work from it, or quote from it, we should formally cite that work, identifying the authors and specifying the facts of publication completely enough to allow any reader to confirm that our copy is accurate and that our adaptation or derivation is legitimate. Responsible scholars cite one another, even when the original authors publish their work under a license that specifically permits copying, both to ensure the correct allocation of credit and to enable readers to trace for themselves the development of the ideas expressed.
  • For the same reasons, when we copy or adapt unpublished work, in part or in its entirety, we should obtain the permission of the author(s), credit them explicitly, and acknowledge their priority.
  • For similar reasons, when we receive help from other individuals, we credit them explicitly.
  • It would be both arrogant and unfair to distort, sabotage, or interfere with the course work of others, or to prevent them from submitting it. We should refrain from seeking unfair advantages of this sort.
  • We should not lie to gain some advantage in a course, nor misrepresent our own work or the work of others, nor deceive one another about our work in more indirect ways. We should instead seek and respect the truth, even when doing so does not appear to be to our immediate advantage.
  • In some course assignments, we are required to make records that contain evidence related to their work, such as logs, interaction transcripts, and test runs. The value of such records lies in the fact that the evidence they contain might either support or refute a controversial claim, asserting (for instance) that a calculation or a program is correct or that all of the steps in an experimental protocol were carried out. Honesty therefore requires us to create such documents so that they record actual events and observations, without distortion, and to protect them against subsequent modification by anyone.
  • Section IV.A.4 of the Faculty Handbook specifies that the grades faculty members report "shall have been determined, in the final analysis, on the basis of the faculty member's own professional evaluation of each individual student's work." In order to reach such evaluations, instructors frequently require students to submit assignments and examinations as individuals, even in cases where students might be able to obtain better results through collaboration or by copying or adapting the work of others. Honesty and fairness require us to observe the restrictions that the instructors impose.
  • For the same reasons, instructors may limit or prohibit students from receiving outside assistance on certain assignments and examinations, whether from faculty members, class members, tutors, peers,, or whatever. If such help is prohibited, honesty and fairness require us not to seek it and not to offer it. If it is permitted, we have an obligation to acknowledge our receipt of it accurately, explicitly, and fully.
  • For the same reasons, even when allowing some kinds of outside assistance, instructors may limit or prohibit students from receiving other kinds of outside assistance. For example, some instructors might permit discussion of high-level design issues but disallow help with the expression of designs in program code. Honesty and fairness require us to understand what kinds of help are allowed, and to neither seek nor offer prohibited help.
  • We should not distribute solutions to assigned problems or answers to examination questions without the explicit permission of the instructor who assigned them. To do so would be dishonest and unfair to the students who are sincerely trying to achieve their best individual work.

When members of the department encounter cases in which students have failed to meet departmental or course standards of academic honesty or appropriate behavior, department members normally follow College guidelines and discuss those cases with appropriate officers of the Committee on Academic Standing (CAS) or the College Hearing Board (CHB). In many instances, CAS or CHB will take on the responsibility of determining an appropriate outcome for the case. In some instances, CAS or CHB will decide that the cases do not fall within their purview. In such instances, the failure to meet standards will be considered a violation of course or department policies and will be subject to penalties similar to those imposed by CAS or CHB.

Penalties imposed by the course instructor or department may include, but are not limited to,

  • A grade of zero (0) on any relevant work.
  • A reduction in the final grade in the course by the equivalent of one letter grade.
  • Failure in the course.
  • Expulsion from the major.
  • A recommendation to the College that the student be suspended.
  • A recommendation to the College that the student be expelled.
  • Any combination of these penalties.

Questions about this policy or the enforcement of this policy may be addressed to the department chair.