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Belmont University | Belief in Something Greater

Faculty FAQ

The following are questions faculty frequently ask the Director of Community Accountability in regards to the Honor Pledge and adjudication of violations. They are provided to assist you if a violation occurs in your class. If a question is not answered in this document, the Director of Community Accountability (accountability@belmont.edu or 615-460-6407) can provide additional counsel.

1. What level of “proof” or “evidence” do I need that a violation has occurred?
Many times faculty feel they need to possess the “smoking gun,” evidence that definitively proves an Honor Pledge violation has occurred. However, Belmont’s accountability process uses a preponderance of the evidence standard to determine if a student is responsible for a violation. Preponderance of the evidence simply means that available information must support that it is more likely than not (51%) the student violated the Honor pledge. For example, if a professor cannot find the actual source a student plagiarized, the fact that the language in question does not match the student’s voice in prior work may still be enough to hold him or her responsible for plagiarism.

2. How much time will this take?
The process approved by the Faculty Senate simplifies the steps required for a professor to personally address a violation. Many times a student will accept responsibility and the entire process can be completed in an hour. Even if a student denies responsibility, the process will not be greatly prolonged. A professor will simply need to take time to review and weigh any information the student provides to show he or she is not responsible. Occasionally violations will be complex and/or involve a number of individuals. However, these situations tend to be rare and the Director of Community Accountability can assist.

3. Will I lose control of the situation if I contact the Director of Community Accountability?
The Director of Community Accountability is a resource who can consult and assist you with a violation. Professors are empowered under the process approved by the Faculty Senate to adjudicate violations themselves or refer it to the Honor Court. Professors are encouraged to participate in Honor Court inquiries.

4. Can I handle this situation informally?
There is no informal mechanism for resolving violations of the Honor Pledge. Faculty should follow the formal process as that will provide them and the university protection from liability. Further, it allows the university to track whether a student has engaged in academic dishonesty in multiple courses. Finally, research supports that formal adjudication of violations reduces academic dishonesty in the student body.

5. What if a student threatens to sue?
Belmont’s legal standard for decision-making in relation to academic matters is fairly broad. As long as a professor and/or the university substantially adhere to the approved process for addressing honor pledge violations, a student will likely be unsuccessful pursuing a legal recourse.

6. Does this create a permanent black mark on the student’s record?
The university maintains records of Honor Pledge violations for 10 years. However, those records are only shared internally when a legitimate educational purpose or other narrow FERPA exception applies. Externally, records are shared when a student has provided signed consent or is enrolling at another institution. In typical admissions decisions, then, students are aware Belmont is sharing information. Further, students often have an opportunity to address the violation with the admissions committee or employer. Most academic institutions would not consider a conduct incident an absolute bar to admission.

7. Is it academic dishonesty or an issue with academic preparation?
Professors can find themselves in an unclear situation when issues in a student’s work may arise from academic dishonesty or a lack of academic preparation. For example, is a citation issue plagiarism or bad writing? Students can unintentionally violate the Honor Pledge, as intent is not a required element for a finding of responsibility. However, the professor may use his or her discretion in determining whether the issue is more accurately a teachable moment rather than academic dishonesty.

8. Is there a separate process for graduate students?
No. The Honor Pledge is the same throughout the community. The Honor Court is consistently composed of faculty and students at both the graduate and undergraduate level.