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Credits: 2021 The New York Times Company, Illustration by Tomi Um

For many students around the world, distance learning is currently the only option available  and universities have put in a great deal of effort to help students adjust to this “new normal.” While online teaching has its flaws, an issue critical to a healthy learning process is academic integrity, which has suffered greatly in this online mode of instruction. Even though the added stress of studying from home may be partially to blame, the instances of violation of academic integrity are growing at an alarming rate. The institute administration has been aware of this issue since last semester, and thus there has been a great deal of progress in addressing and disciplining those that are guilty. This article primarily talks about the formation of the Academic Malpractice Committee and how the institute used selected informants from across departments to formulate a list of students who have been privy to or have committed malpractices themselves and the administration’s plans on imposing penalties.

Interview with the DD AIA: 

Q: What is the Academic Malpractice Committee and why was it formed? 

A:  As the premier institute in our country, we have always tried our best to ensure that our academic reputation is absolutely unblemished. In these tough times we’ve seen a lot of changes and a lot of challenges. One of the most serious issues that has come up is that students have been compromising on their academic integrity. In the previous semester, post the midsems, we took feedback from our Professors and it came to our attention that despite pushing for the use of strict proctoring through the SAFE app and so on, there have been many cases of cheating. Many of our colleagues found that our proctoring system was far from foolproof.  We realised that we needed greater student involvement as well as some out-of-the-box thinking to combat this issue. Hence, we decided to form the Academic Malpractice Committee consisting of some select professors and headed by the Associate Dean AP. The primary goal of the Committee was to come up with an effective solution to this widespread problem and to punish those who are guilty. We wanted to make sure that we do not let down the students who did not give up on academic integrity. 

Q: What was the strategy that the Committee adopted to tackle this issue?

A:  After many weeks of discussion we realised that no method of proctoring would be 100% foolproof. We finally decided on taking the help of some conscientious and meritorious students along with the Teaching Assistants of the courses. Some of these students had reached out to us before as well to report malpractices. We formed a confidential Malpractice Task Force and with the goal of catching those indulging in these malpractices. The Task Force was asked to report any and all instances of cheating, and as far as possible, with sufficient evidence against the culprits. 

Q: Could you elaborate on how the task force was formed?

A: The committee was formed through a rigorous selection process, with the collaborative efforts of the Academic Council, Hostel Affairs Council, Teaching Assistants, SMP teams, and Professors. We took recommendations from Professors, conducted background checks, peer reviews, looked at students’ academic track records, and so on. The selected students were then informed of their selection. All this was done under the strictest guidelines of secrecy, the breach of which would lead to severe disciplinary action. The Malpractice Task Force was then finalised through personal interviews.

(Insight has managed to obtain a copy of the mail sent to students informing them of their selection in the Student Task Force)

Q: What were the findings of the committee?

A: The results of this investigation were frankly quite shocking, and paint a very unflattering picture of our students’ integrity. Approximately 550-600 students have been identified until now committing various acts of malpractice, with several students even having committed serious crimes on multiple instances. The proofs and relevant information are still being compiled as we speak and the identified students will be informed shortly. It is very disappointing indeed to see the bright young minds resorting to such acts, that too  in such large numbers.

Q: You mentioned penalties being imposed on the aforementioned students. What exactly would these look like?

A: The Committee is still deciding on  what punishments  need to be meted out to those who are guilty. According to institute policy, all those caught committing acts of academic malpractice face the Disciplinary Action Committee. In addition to that, 4 levels of penalties will be imposed according to the severity of the malpractice and the frequency of cheating by the student; namely, making the marks in that particular exam/assignment void, severe grade penalty/ grade cap in the corresponding course, FR in the corresponding course, and finally, semester/year backs. The strictest of the penalties are for students that have facilitated mass cheating. 

Q: Would you like to add any concluding remarks?

A:  I would like to urge students who have been witnesses to report instances of malpractice. We are no strangers to cheating in college; the students know the rules and so do I. Further, to all those who have been committing these acts, I ask you to come forward. If you come forward of your own accord and co-operate, you can expect some degree of leniency from our side. Overall, this situation is quite disheartening. Students should realise that cheating has adverse effects in the long term, and it ultimately ends up hurting you rather than doing good. It is extremely short sighted to indulge in these malpractices, and one should have the discipline and integrity to resist the urge to take the easy path. Setting aside the great harm this causes to honest students who do not indulge in this, and assuming you are not caught, would you really be able to leave IIT Bombay as an alumni with your head held high if you have used unfair means to obtain your degree? I would advise the students take this as a learning opportunity, and refrain from indulging in academic malpractice in the future. 

Insight has managed to obtain an interim list containing the details of the students who have committed academic malpractices. The completed list will be forwarded to professors, and Academic DACs imposed once the compiling of proofs is finished. Find attached herewith the list we managed to obtain –

*this article is a work of fiction