16 Ethics and the Teaching Enterprise

Adapted with permission from University of Tennessee, 1986

Scholarship is at home only in an atmosphere of honest practice by both students and TAs. All members of the academic community should conduct themselves in a straightforward and honorable manner. Study, instruction, evaluation, and research can flourish well only in such an environment.

Academic integrity is a joint endeavor. TAs should make appropriate preparations for all student-teacher encounters, meet classes as scheduled, evaluate students’ work fairly and impartially, and be prompt for prearranged conferences and regularly scheduled office hours. Inappropriate language in the classroom, off-color remarks or jokes in class as well as in personal conferences, and frequent deviations from the course topic have no proper place in the teaching academy. In turn, students should fulfill in a reasonable way the requirements and expectations of the course as stated by the teacher.

Standard of Ethical Conduct

Adapted from the University of Florida Standard of Ethical Conduct, 2003

Honesty, integrity, and caring are essential qualities of an educational institution, and the concern for values and ethics is important to the whole educational experience. Individual students and faculty and staff members, as well as the University’s formal organizations must assume responsibility for these qualities. The concern for values and ethics should be expressed in classes, seminars, laboratories, and, in fact, in all aspects of University life. By definition, the University community includes members of the faculty, staff, and administration as well as students.

Education at the University of Florida is not an ethically neutral experience. The University stands for, and seeks to inculcate, high standards. Moreover, the concern for values goes well beyond the observance of rules. A university is a place where self-expression, voicing disagreement, and challenging outmoded customs and beliefs are prized and honored. However, all such expressions and challenges need to be civil, manifesting respect and concern for others. As a major sector in the community, students are expected to follow the University’s rules and regulations that, by design, seek to promote an atmosphere of learning. The other sectors, faculty, staff, and administration, are expected to provide encouragement and leadership as well as example.

While the University seeks to educate and encourage, it also has a responsibility to restrict any behavior that adversely affects others or is contrary to the pursuit of knowledge.

Academic Integrity

Students are required to commit themselves to academic integrity by agreeing to a prescribed basic statement, including the Student Honor Code, as part of the registration process. The process of learning and pursuit of knowledge are diminished by cheating, plagiarism, and other acts of academic misconduct. In addition, every act of academic misconduct in the academic environment harms other students, from the skewing of the grading curve to giving unfair advantage for honors or for professional or graduate-school admission. Therefore, the University will take appropriate action against students who engage in academic misconduct. Measures will also be taken against faculty, staff, and administration members who practice dishonest or demeaning behavior.

Student Responsibility A commitment is made by agreeing to the terms of enrollment at the time of admission to be honest in all academic work and abide by the Student Honor Code. In addition, students should report any condition that facilitates dishonesty to the class instructor, the department chairperson, the dean of the college, or to Student Conduct & Conflict Resolution in the Dean of Students Office.

Faculty Responsibility Faculty members have a duty to promote ethical behavior and to avoid practices and environments that encourage academic misconduct in their classes. Teachers should encourage students to bring negative conditions or incidents of academic misconduct to their attention. In their own work, teachers should practice the same high standards they expect from their students.

Academic Violations

University policy states that a faculty member cannot take academic action (e.g. lowering an assignment grade) against a student without filing a report with Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution in the Dean of Students Office, as that denies the student due process.  The University has elected to have a central clearinghouse for Honor Code violations in order to ensure that students are not violating policies in multiple departments without increased consequences, and to ensure that faculty members are following due process and are thus protected from student complaints in reference to unfair grading when academic misconduct is involved.

The process for reporting alleged Honor Code violations can be found at https://sccr.dso.ufl.edu/faculty/honor-code-process/.

The following examples of common academic violations you may encounter are defined by the University’s Academic Honesty Guidelines. For a full description of all Honor Code violations, please refer to https://sccr.dso.ufl.edu/students/student-conduct-code/.

Unauthorized Use of Materials or Resources “Cheating”

Cheating is defined as the improper taking or tendering of any information or material which shall be used to determine academic credit. Taking of information includes, but is not limited to, copying graded homework assignments from another student; working together with another individual(s) on a take-home test or homework when not specifically permitted by the teacher; looking or attempting to look at another student’s paper during an examination; looking or attempting to look at text or notes during an examination when not permitted. The tendering of information includes, but is not limited to, giving your work to another student to be used or copied; giving someone answers to exam questions either when the exam is being given or after taking an exam; giving or selling a term paper or other written materials to another student; sharing information on a graded assignment.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is defined as the attempt to represent the work of another as the product of one’s own thought, whether the work is published or unpublished, or simply the work of a fellow student. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to, quoting oral or written materials without citation on an exam, term paper, homework, or other written materials or oral presentations for an academic requirement; submitting a paper purchased from a term-paper service as your own work; submitting anyone else’s paper as your own work; or resubmitting your own work when repeating a course or for another course.

Prohibited Collaboration or Consultation

Collaboration is defined as working together with one or more individual(s) on a take-home test or homework when not specifically permitted by the teacher; looking or attempting to look at another student’s paper during an examination; or otherwise completing an assignment with one or more individual(s). Consultation is defined as conferring with one or more individual(s) on any academic work without instructor authorization. This could include asking a friend who has previously completed a course for assistance on an assignment; asking a parent to share his/her expertise related to an assignment, etc.

Fabrication or Falsification of Information

Fabrication is defined as inventing of or tampering with the authenticity of information for the purpose of gaining an academic advantage for any student. This can include submitting falsified medical documentation; forging a signature; falsifying service or internship hours; providing false excuse for late work, etc.

“Turnitin.com”

Turnitin is an internet-based anti-plagiarism technology that enables faculty members to level the academic playing field for honest students. The Office of Academic Technology has licensed Turnitin.com for the use of University of Florida faculty and students. Turnitin.com products and services help educators and students maximize the Internet’s educational potential by making it a safe place for research and learning.

The dramatic growth of the Internet means that more and more articles and essays on a nearly infinite array of topics are available on the World Wide Web. Likewise, services offering academic papers for sale have boomed on the Internet, making it increasingly easy for students to find and submit work that is not their own.

Turnitin’s web-based program searches out matching and even partially altered phrases from web content and Turn-it-in databases. The software then provides to the teacher a color-coded “originality report” with links to similarities in submitted text. This report then allows the instructor to carefully evaluate suspect papers for proper and improper citation as well as for plagiarism.

Use of Turnitin is a potent deterrent against plagiarism, stopping potential violators from undercutting their own education, and letting honest students compete in a fair arena, thus helping strengthen academic values and codes of honor. Training is offered by the Office of Academic Technology in the form of courses and streaming video presentations. For more information, visit https://lss.at.ufl.edu/help/Turnitin.

Privacy of Student Records

Adapted with permission from University of Tennessee, 1986

Federal law provides for the confidentiality of student records. Each instructor must take care that student records not be revealed to anyone other than the student. If you post grades of any kind, be certain to establish for each student a special identification code which only you and the student know. If you list grades in a hallway, you must randomly mix the order of the identification numbers which you have assigned students. You cannot legally use social security numbers or UFID numbers for this purpose. Use the students’ names and identification numbers to keep grade records, but do not permit any student to inspect those records.

The University of Florida, in accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974, also known as the Buckley Amendment, sets forth requirements designed to protect the privacy of students and parents. The statute governs the access to records maintained by educational institutions and the release of such records.

The Buckley Amendment provides for the confidentiality of student records, including grades. Each instructor must take care that student records not be revealed to anyone other than the student. If you will be posting grades or exam scores, you cannot use the student’s name, full social security number, or UFID number as an identifier. Instead, a unique ID number should be issued confidentially to each student. This number should be known only by you and the student to whom it belongs. Instructors should also make certain that when records are posted by these unique numbers, the order in which the posted numbers appear should in no way reflect the alphabetized order of the class.

The practice of leaving tests, quizzes, papers, or homework in a specified location for students to pick up on their own is also taboo. Graded work must be returned individually to protect the privacy of the students.

The release of information about a student is also a delicate matter — especially if it is the student’s parents who are requesting the information. If the request is made by phone, no information can be released under any circumstances; in such situations, it is impossible to establish the veracity of the student-parent relationship. Furthermore, information can only be released to parents without the student’s consent if the student is under the age of 18 or if the parents can prove the financial dependence of the student — this requires a certified copy of their most recent Federal Income Tax Return. Release of information to a third party can only be authorized by a signed, written request from either the student or the student’s parents — provided that at least one of the above requirements are met. For more information on the Buckley Amendment, see http://privacy.ufl.edu/privacy/studentfaculty/ .

Letters of Recommendation

Adapted with permission from University of Tennessee, 1986

Students may ask you to recommend them for a particular job, acceptance to another institution, or graduate school. If you feel you must decline, simply explain why. If you are willing to write the letter, do so promptly, while you still have the student and his or her performance sharply in mind. A carefully written and thoughtful letter takes time and you are a busy person, but remember that others have done and will do the same for you.

Ask if there is a specific form to be used or whether a letter is needed. Have the student note the nature of the job or situation for which he or she is applying and any particular abilities that you might mention. Then be as specific as possible. Focus on the student’s best points, but don’t exaggerate; be honest. Be sure to define the context within which you knew the person, e.g., in class, as an advisor formally or informally, and state over what period of time. If you later see the student for whom you wrote the recommendation, ask about the results. This not only lets the students know you are interested, but gives you feedback on your own letter-writing efforts.

Keep in mind that you are legally responsible for statements you make in your recommendation, to the extent, at least, that you are liable for any deleterious remarks you make. If you have reason to be concerned about something you want to express, preface what you have to say with something like “To the best of my knowledge . . .” Remember that “libel and slander are both methods of defamation, the former being expressed by print, writing, pictures, or signs; the latter by oral expression” (Ajouelo v. Auto-Soler, 1939).

Under the Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a student has the right to see a copy of your recommendation unless he or she is willing to sign a waiver. If you have no objections, this problem can be circumvented by giving a copy of the recommendation to the student.

Sexual Harassment

UF does not tolerate sexual harassment.  As employees, TAs function as agents of the University, and therefore share the same responsibility to conform to UF’s policy in this area as does any other UF employee.  By virtue of their authority in the classroom, TAs have power in TA-student relationships. TAs, therefore, must be careful not to abuse or appear to abuse that power. A situation may be perceived very differently by the parties involved because of the “power” situation. A student may find it difficult and also threatening to refuse a “request” from a TA, however casual the request. TAs should be sensitive to the fact that a student may not feel comfortable in telling a TA that he/she does not wish to pursue a more personal, as opposed to academic, relationship because of the TA’s power.

Because TAs care about students on a personal as well as academic basis, they sometimes attempt to make students and staff feel comfortable at the University by being casual and friendly with them. Such relationships are important and offer support that can lead to academic growth. It is when the relationship focuses on sexual rather than intellectual aspects that there is danger of sexual harassment or the perception of sexual harassment.

Since UF does not tolerate sexual harassment, the University strongly discourages employee-student interactions (including TAs in either role) which may lead to amorous relationships. A conflict of interest is created when an individual evaluates or supervises another individual with whom he or she has an amorous or sexual relationship. Such relationships, even though consensual, are likely to be exploitative, and they imperil the integrity of the education process and work environment. They also may lead to charges of sexual harassment. Thus, the University requires the resolution of any conflict of interest created by these relationships.

Whenever a conflict of interest arises or is foreseen, the employee in the position of authority must resolve any potential conflict of interest by taking necessary steps, including removing himself or herself from evaluative decisions concerning the student. If the individual is unable to resolve personally the conflict of interest, he or she is required to inform the immediate supervisor promptly and seek advice and counsel in dealing with the conflict. The employee, along with the supervisor, is responsible for taking steps to ensure unbiased supervision or evaluation of the student. Failure to resolve potential or actual conflict of interest as described in this policy may result in disciplinary action.

The following are some general guidelines for protecting yourself and the students you teach from sexual harassment:

Do not ask students to do favors of any kind for you. This will help to avoid misunderstandings concerning the singling out of students for what might appear to be preferential treatment.

Schedule meetings with students during office hours or by appointment. For more informal meetings with individuals or groups, meet in public settings such as a cafeteria or nearby café. It is important that students not misconstrue the sentiment behind informal get-togethers and read inappropriate meanings into your invitations.

Attempt to resolve disputes or disagreements with students in the presence (or within hearing distance) of other graduate students or witnesses. This may prevent a disgruntled student from making false accusations out of anger over academic matters. Another alternative is to meet with the supervising professor for the course or your departmental supervisor and the student simultaneously in order to avoid similar misunderstandings.

Issues of sexual harassment can be especially tricky for teaching assistants because they occupy the roles of both teacher and student. TAs are in a particularly vulnerable position: as teachers they have some power over their own students, and as graduate students they are subject to the power of the faculty over their academic records and letters of recommendation. (Adapted with permission: Farris, 1985) Therefore, the issue of sexual harassment must be addressed from two directions: the TA’s potential for harassing (or being perceived as harassing) students and the potential for TAs to be harassed by those who instruct and supervise them.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and a violation of state and federal laws, as well as of the rules and regulations of the University of Florida. All employees and students must be allowed to work and study in an environment free from unsolicited and unwelcome sexual overtures. Sexual harassment does not refer to compliments; it refers to behavior which is not welcomed, which is personally offensive to the victim, and which the victim feels interferes with work or educational effectiveness.

According to official University of Florida policy,

Sexual Harassment is a form of sex discrimination that can occur when:

  • The submission to unwelcome physical conduct of a sexual nature, to unwelcome requests for sexual favors, or to other verbal conduct of a sexual nature is made an implicit or explicit term or condition of employment or education; or
  • The submission to or rejection of unwelcome physical conduct of a sexual nature, unwelcome requests for sexual favors, or other verbal conduct of a sexual nature is used as a basis for academic or employment decisions or evaluations; or
  • Unwelcome physical acts of a sexual nature, unwelcome requests for sexual favors, or other verbal conduct of a sexual nature have the effect of creating an objectively hostile environment that interferes with employment or education on account of sex
  • The existence of sexual harassment is a serious problem. The University has a legal duty to maintain its workplace and classrooms free from sexual harassment.

Any student, TA, employee or faculty member who feels that he or she has been the victim of sexual harassment may bring the matter to the attention of the appropriate individual or office without confronting the perpetrator. Often, however, harassment situations may be resolved informally by informing the perpetrator that you find the behavior offensive. As a first step, tell the offending individual, firmly but politely, that you think what he or she is doing is sexual harassment, which is against University policy. Most of the time, this will be all that is necessary. However, people sometimes feel powerless when experiencing sexual harassment and are reluctant to confront the harasser personally. Writing a letter (or an email) directly to the harasser is an excellent alternative. The letter (or email) should consist of three parts:

  1. A factual account of what happened, including details of dates and descriptions of offending behaviors.
  2. A description of how you feel about what occurred, including specific feelings and your personal thoughts and opinions.
  3. A statement of what you want to happen next. Most writers want the behavior to stop, but if a remedy is necessary, it should be included here.

Mail a copy of the letter to the harasser using registered or certified mail (or add a “read receipt” to an email). Be sure to keep a copy of the letter or email for yourself. A formal complaint form, as well as more information on all policies regarding sexual harassment, is available through the Office of the Provost’s website.

Just as teaching assistants occupy differing roles as both teacher and student, they also have differing responsibilities when it comes to reporting harassment. If TAs are themselves harassed and feel that they would rather handle the situation themselves, they have that option. (If you want to talk confidentially about the situation without, or prior to, making a formal complaint, you can contact the Counseling and Wellness Center (352-392-1575).) However, if in their official role, TAs have knowledge of the sexual harassment of a UF student, they do not have an option – as agents of the University, they are required to report it.

Except for student-on-student sexual harassment, TAs should report such incidents to the Title IX Coordinator or any university official, administrator, supervisor, manager, or faculty member.. Contact the Title IX Coordinator by phone at 352-273-1094, or online at rfroman@ufl.edu.

For student-on-student sexual harassment incidents, the TA should direct the report to the Dean of Students, Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution.

Criminal sexual harassment/sexual assault should be reported to the University Police Department.

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UF TA Handbook by John Jordi; Genavie Cueman; and Jennifer K. Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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