Academic Integrity

GW Law Policy on Academic Integrity

It is the responsibility of each student to read and comply with the George Washington University Law School Policy on Academic Integrity. Copies are also available from the Dean of Students.

Citing Responsibly: A Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism

This handbook was developed by The George Washington University Law School's Committee on Academic Integrity. It is intended to inform students about the Law School's rules regarding plagiarism and to provide tips on how to avoid committing plagiarism. Copies are distributed to all incoming students.

Integrity Q & A

The Policy on Academic Integrity

Q. Where did this policy come from? 

A. The policy was adopted for the Law School by vote of the faculty and of the student body in the fall of 1997. It became effective January 1, 1998.

The Committee on Academic Integrity

Q. What is the Committee on Academic Integrity? Does this committee conduct hearings into individual cases in which students are charged with academic dishonesty?

A. The Committee on Academic Integrity is a committee made up of faculty members, administrators, and students. The mission of the Committee is to promote a culture of honesty, integrity, and professional responsibility throughout the Law School community and to educate members of the Law School community regarding their responsibilities under the Policy on Academic Integrity.

The committee reviews the policy on a continuing basis and recommends changes to it when necessary. It provides guidance to all members of the Law School community concerning the meaning and operation of the policy. It also conducts other activities to promote the achievement of its mission.

The committee does not administer the policy on a day-to-day basis. That function is performed by the Dean of Students office. The committee does not hold hearings regarding individual charges of academic dishonesty. Such hearings, when required, are conducted by a hearing committee appointed by the dean. The students on the hearing committee will, however, be drawn from the student members of the Committee on Academic Integrity.

The Pledge of Honesty

Q. Does the pledge requirement apply to a draft of a paper that will later be submitted in final form?

A. The default answer is no, although an individual instructor may choose to require that drafts be accompanied by the pledge. The pledge requirement applies to “each item of written work submitted at the Law School for credit.”  Policy, § 4.1. The pledge is required to be submitted only once per item of written work, and, in the opinion of the committee, drafts of a paper and the later-submitted final paper may best be regarded as a single item of written work for purposes of the pledge requirement. Therefore, the pledge needs be submitted only with the submission of the final paper. However, any instructor may choose to regard drafts as independent items and require the submission of the pledge with each draft.

Q. If the pledge requirement doesn’t apply to a draft, does that mean it’s OK to cheat on drafts?

A. No. This brings out an important point about the policy and the pledge requirement: All students are bound by the policy independently of the pledge requirement. The pledge exists to serve as a reminder and an affirmation of the importance of academic integrity, it does not “trigger” the application of the policy. The policy applies wherever it applies, regardless of whether it requires the pledge for a particular assignment and regardless of whether a student in fact signs the pledge for a particular assignment.

Q. What happens if a student submits an item of written work without including the pledge?

A. An instructor who receives an item of written work without the required pledge should require that the pledge be promptly submitted. The assignment should not be regarded as complete without the submission of the pledge. If the student is unable to submit the pledge, an inference arises that there is some academic integrity problem associated with the assignment. The student should be asked to explain. If the pledge is submitted after the deadline for the item of written work, it is up to the instructor to determine whether there should be any grade penalty, just as it would be up to the instructor to determine whether there should be a penalty for late submission of any other part of the assignment. In the early days of implementation of the pledge requirement, the committee recommends that there be no penalty for late submission of the pledge provided the pledge is promptly submitted when the student’s attention is drawn to the failure to submit it when originally required.

Q. When should the pledge be signed?

A. It is best if a student signs the pledge after completing the work to which the pledge relates. The pledge certifies that the student has not received improper aid in completing the work, which is implies that the work has been completed at the time the pledge is signed.

Academic Dishonesty

Q. The definition section of the policy provides an intent requirement for acts of academic dishonesty. Does that mean that a student, in order to have committed academic dishonesty, must have intended to violate the policy, or only that the student must have intended to do the thing that constitutes a violation of the policy?

A. The latter. The “mens rea” of academic dishonesty is the intention to do the act that is the “actus reus” of academic dishonesty, not the intention to commit academic dishonesty. The following examples clarify this point:

Example 1: A student submits a paper for credit that contains a paragraph that is paraphrased from a book. The student knows that the paragraph is paraphrased from a book but intentionally fails to include a citation to the book. The student sincerely (but mistakenly) believes that principles of legal citation require citation only for direct quotations and therefore that no footnote is required for this paragraph. Analysis: The student has committed academic dishonesty. The student intentionally did the forbidden act, which is to submit the paper without a citation for the paragraph. The student’s ignorance of the principle that requires the citation is irrelevant.

Example 2: A student submits a paper for credit that contains a paragraph that is paraphrased from a book.  The student puts an appropriate citation into the paper, but, at the last moment, and without the student’s knowledge, a bug in the student’s word processing program causes the citation to disappear. The student does not notice the absence of the citation before submitting the paper. Analysis: The student has not committed academic dishonesty, because the student did not know that the paper did not include the citation.


Q. I’m a foreign student. In my home country, the rules of legal citation are different than they are here. Must I follow U.S. rules of legal citation for my assignments here? Will it be plagiarism if I submit a paper in a form that would be acceptable in my home country but that constitutes plagiarism under U.S. notions of plagiarism and legal citation?

A. All students, including foreign students, are bound by U.S. concepts of plagiarism and U.S. rules of legal citation for all assignments submitted at GW Law School. An assignment submitted at GW Law School, that contains plagiarism as defined under U.S. concepts of plagiarism, can lead to a charge of plagiarism, and be penalized by all penalties applicable to charges of plagiarism, regardless of whether the paper would be acceptable in the student’s home country.


Q. When time is called for an examination, is it permissible to finish writing the sentence one is writing at that moment?

A. No. The rule at GW Law School is that students must cease writing immediately when time is called, without even finishing the sentence they may be writing at that moment. A student may, after time is called, write the necessary identifying information on the covers of blue books, and number the blue books, but only at the proctor’s desk while the proctor is watching. Any other writing in or on the blue books after time is called is forbidden.

Charges of Academic Dishonesty

Q. If I tell the Associate Dean of Students that I think I saw a student cheat on an exam, will that information be permanently retained on the student’s record, even if it never leads to anything?

A. No. The policy’s rule of permanent retention of charges of academic dishonesty applies only when, after initial investigation, the Associate Dean determines that the evidence warrants the bringing of a formal “charge” of academic dishonesty. If, after initial investigation, the Associate Dean determines that a charge is not warranted, then the information is retained until the students involved graduate and then discarded.  See Policy, § 2.2.

Q. Why are records of charges and their disposition permanently retained? Why isn’t there a procedure for expunging records after some period of years?

A. Law students are adults. They have reached the stage in life when dishonesty can no longer be forgiven as a youthful indiscretion. Law school is professional school and law students are expected to act honorably, as befits those who seek to enter an honorable profession.  Permanent retention of records reflects the serious nature of academic dishonesty. It also provides an appropriate deterrent to academic dishonesty.

Q. Why are charges of academic dishonesty permanently retained on a student’s record, even in cases in which the charged student is found not to have committed academic dishonesty? Does this practice unnecessarily require students to report innocent matters to bar authorities?

A. This point was extensively discussed at the time the policy was adopted. Some state bar authorities require bar applicants to state whether they have ever been charged with academic dishonesty, regardless of the disposition of the charge. If a student is applying for admission to a bar that asks this question, then the student must answer truthfully. The duty to report charges is therefore created by state bar authorities. This duty would exist whether or not the Law School retained records of charges. The duty to report charges to state bar authorities also explains another important reason for the Policy’s rule of permanent retention: to avoid confusion as to what a bar applicant must report. If a student truthfully reports that he or she was charged but found not to have committed academic dishonesty, then the bar authorities will ask for an explanation of what happened, but the matter will not typically be a substantial obstacle to bar admission. If, however, a student thinks, “the records of this charge were discarded, so it doesn’t exist any more and I don’t have to report it,” then the student is making a grave error that could land him or her in serious trouble. If bar authorities discover that the student was charged and failed to report it, then the student may not be admitted to the bar.

Reporting Academic Dishonesty

Q. I've heard that some students have been openly boasting about how they cheated on the exam in a certain class. Should I report this to the dean's office?

A. Almost every exam period, rumors of one kind or another circulate through the law school. The rumor that some students notoriously cheated and then boasted about it is a not uncommon form of rumor. Such rumors can pose a delicate issue. On the one hand, the policy requires a person who "becomes aware of an act of academic dishonesty" to report it to the dean's office. Therefore, if you become aware of what you believe is some cheating that actually took place, you are required to report it. On the other hand, you are not required to report wild rumors, and, indeed, it is best to discourage such rumors by not repeating them.

How can you distinguish between information about actual cheating and a wild rumor? Only your own good judgment can perform this task. However, the following is a useful guide: if you observed cheating, or if someone tells you that he or she personally cheated, then you have some information about actual cheating that you must report. If someone tells you that a third person said that a fourth person heard that a fifth person cheated and then boasted about it, then you are probably hearing a wild rumor.

Q. I know that a particular student cheated and I want to report it, but I don't want to give the student's name. Can I do that?

A. No. If you have information that a particular student cheated, you must report the student by name. It is very difficult for the dean's office to investigate claims that "someone" cheated. In order for cheating to be properly punished, the names of students who have cheated must be reported to the dean's office.

Q. I am willing to give the name of the student who cheated, but I would like to withhold my own name and report the cheating anonymously. Can I do that?

A. The policy can be properly implemented only if persons reporting academic dishonesty provide their own names. Anonymous reports of academic dishonesty are very difficult to investigate and can have the effect of leaving the dean's office without sufficient evidence upon which to base a charge of academic dishonesty.

If you have other questions about the Policy on Academic Integrity, please submit them to any member of the Committee on Academic Integrity.