Let’s say that one of your instructors, say Professor X, has contacted you, suggesting that you may have violated Cornell’s Code of Academic Integrity. Professor X wants to schedule a primary hearing in order to discuss the matter.
Your first reaction is probably one of the following:
- You are absolutely certain that you did not violate the Code. How dare he say you cheated!
- You didn’t mean to violate the Code, and you are confused and scared. Did you miss or misinterpret the rules? If the case involves plagiarism, perhaps you weren’t careful enough in citing other work. If the case involves inappropriate assistance that you may have received from or provided to classmates, perhaps you weren’t aware of what assistance or collaboration was allowed.
- You know you violated the Code. Damn, you’ve been caught.
If you are confident that you did not violate the Code, wait until you talk to Professor X before getting too heated up. Since you are summoned to a primary hearing, there apparently is reason to believe that you may have violated the Code. This will be investigated ate the hearing. It could be that someone might have stolen your homework and turned it in or copied some of your answers. During the primary hearing, you should be able to convince Professor X that you are innocent.
If, upon being summoned to the primary hearing, you become aware that you might have violated the Code, attend the hearing and honestly explain what happened. Prepare for the primary hearing as suggested below.
If you know you violated the Code, the problem is not that you were caught but that you felt the need to cheat at all. Hopefully, you will take this incident to heart and resolve never to do it again. In this Cornell learning community, faculty and students work together, in an environment of trust and curiosity. If you violate this trust, you hurt yourself, in that you harm your own credibility, and you may harm other students.
Whatever your reaction to the summons, respond to Professor X and confirm that you will attend the primary hearing. You have the right to have it held no sooner than one week after you received the notice, but it may be better to get the primary hearing over as soon as possible, so that you—and Professor X—can put the incident in the past and move on.
Whatever the case, be honest, open, and forthright with Professor X. If you have made a mistake and you admit it, you are likely to find that Professor X will treat you more leniently than he will if you conceal or lie about your behavior.
Basics of Primary Hearings
If you have questions about the hearing, by all means contact him. In any case, if you are bringing people (an advisor or witnesses) to the hearing, common courtesy would be to tell Professor X beforehand.
These parties will attend the primary hearing: Professsor X, you, and an “independent witness” (a student, faculty member, or staff member, who is there to observe the proceedings impartially). Later, if you appeal the primary hearing outcome to the Academic Integrity Hearing Board (AIHB), this independent witness will probably attend the AIHB hearing to report on what went on at the primary hearing.
Professor X may ask other people who were involved in uncovering the alleged violation to be present, for example, a teaching assistant in the course. Professor X may also include other students if their involvement is suspected.
You can also ask others to attend to support you, including witnesses who can testify on your behalf as well as an advisor (usually a faculty member, a Judicial Codes Counselor, or another member of the Cornell community).
Because a primary hearing is intended to be a conversation between an instructor and a student, we would not recommend that parents or an attorney attend. Nevertheless, in extremely rare cases, students have asked whether their attorney or even a parent may attend. Professor X may or may not grant such a request. A advisor who accompanies you will act only as an observer or advisor. At the primary hearing, the discussion is between you and Professor X with Professor X asking others to speak as appropriate.
Prepare carefully and thoughtfully and thoroughly:
- Read this whole discussion.
- Read Cornell’s Code of Academic Integrity, particularly sections that Professor X has indicated might apply to you case.
- Review anything in the course material that touches on academic integrity (e.g. the course webpage or the instructions for the assignment in which the alleged violation took place).
- Consider discussing the matter with others. For example, talk to your academic advisor about what this is all about, what primary hearings are like, what penalty might be imposed if you are found guilty, and so forth. If you feel your academic advisor’s presence at the primary hearing would be worthwhile, ask your advisor to attend.
- Consider seeking advice from a Judicial Codes Counselor.
At the primary hearing, Professor X will introduce all those attending and then present the evidence that caused him to convene the primary hearing. When he finishes, he will ask you (and any other students attending) to respond to what he has said. A discussion may ensue. After the discussion, Professor X may tell you his decisions, but more likely he will tell you that he will contact you later with his decisions.
Professor X will make one or possibly two decisions. First, he will decide whether to find you guilty or innocent of the charge. If he finds you innocent, no penalties ensue. If, instead, he finds you guilty, he then decides what penalty to impose.
Can someone (e.g. your advisor, a Judicial Code Counselor, an attorney, your parents) represent you at the primary hearing?
The primary hearing is intended to be a discussion between you (and other students that may have been charged) and Professor X. Witnesses on either side will speak when asked. The independent witness is there to observe, and any adviser you may bring is there to advise you, not to represent you. That is, you will be speaking for yourself.
Of course, your advisor can help by whispering advice or otherwise providing private assistance, and Professor X may let the advisor provide an argument, or even a summation at the end of the hearing, but this is at his discretion. For the most part, you will be speaking for yourself.
The primary hearing is not a legal proceeding; it is part of the academic and educational process, an opportunity for members of the academic community to investigate and deliberate. Simply put, you and Professor X are having a discussion, with others there to advise you or to provide relevant information that might help influence Professor X’s decision.
Cornell has a Judicial Codes Counselor office, which is staffed by students from the Cornell Law School. Counselors can advise you on the Code of Academic Integrity, can help you understand how the academic integrity system works at Cornell, and can help you prepare for your hearing. They may also attend your primary hearing—but only to serve as your advisor, not to act as your lawyer or to respond to the charges on your behalf.
You and Professor X should try to have all witnesses available during a hearing, so that they can present their accounts and you and Prof. Teach can respond. However, neither you nor Prof. Teach has subpoena power, so attendance cannot be compelled
When asking someone to attend as a witness, explain why their presence is important. If you are unsuccessful in eliciting attendance, try to get a written statement.
Professor X should allow you to introduce evidence from a witness who is unable or unwilling to be present. If you can’t get a written statement, you may summarize what you know of the witness. Similarly, Prof. Teach may have evidence from someone who is not present.
Evidence from an anonymous witness is allowed only in extraordinary circumstances.
Outcomes and Appeals
Professor X can impose only penalties that affect your grade. The lowest penalty available is no penalty. The highest penalty available is an F in the course. Many instructors impose penalties somewhere in between, depending on the severity of the offense.
The penalty may involve the assignment or exam in question, the final course grade, or both. For example,
- As a grade-related penalty involving an assignment, Professor X may assign to you no credit for the assignment, partial credit, or a reduction in the grade for the assignment.
- As a grade-related penalty involving your course grade, Professor X may assign to you an F in the course or reduce your grade (e.g. A to A-, A to B, A to C).
Professor X might believe that your alleged offense is so egregious that a grade-related penalty is insufficient and that a more severe penalty is warranted (e.g. a note on your transcript, suspension for one or more semesters, or withdrawal from Cornell). If he seeks a penalty that is not grade-related, he will approach his college’s AIHB chair and ask the Board to consider the case. He may refer the case to the AIHB in place of a primary hearing, or he may do so after he has conducted a primary hearing and found you guilty—but before he assigns a penalty.
If Professor X finds you guilty, he will communicate his decision to you and to his college’s Academic Integrity record keeper. He will tell you the penalty, and he will also tell you that you have the right to appeal both the finding of guilt and the penalty to the Academic Integrity Hearing Board (AIHB) of his college.
If you appeal, the Code says that you must file your appeal within ten working days from the time that Professor X communicates his decision to you in writing. The notice that informs you of the guilty decision and penalty should contain contact information for the AIHB.
If you do appeal, any penalty exacted by Professor X should not be permanently recorded until the appeal has concluded. If he has to file a grade, he will file the grade INC (Incomplete).
Follow this link for information about the appeal process.
Special Issues with Primary Hearings
The Code says that Professor X has the right to hold the primary hearing in your absence if you fail to attend without a compelling excuse.
If you don’t reply to Professor X, or if you agree to be at the primary hearing but then don’t show up or don’t tell him ahead of time why you can’t be there, he will probably hold the primary hearing anyway—and you won’t be there to tell your side of the story. It is in your best interest to show up.
If your chosen JCC can’t attend the primary hearing, feel free to ask Professor X to reschedule the hearing. However, as a resource, the JCC is not guaranteed to be available for any particular hearing. In considering your request, Prof. Teach has to consider the availability of all parties and witnesses as well as the timeliness of the hearing. And it may not be possible for Prof. Teach to grant your request.
You can, of course, bring another advisor to the hearing if the JCC is not available.
If other students who are also being charged will be at your primary hearing, can you request a separate hearing?
The Code of Academic Integrity is silent on this issue. Professor X might want all students who he suspects may be involved in a single hearing because a general discussion by all parties may provide the best chance of uncovering the truth. However, you can certainly ask him to hold a primary hearing for you alone, explaining your reasons. He may or may not agree.
If Prof. Teach suspects you of an academic integrity violation late in the semester, there may not be time to schedule the primary hearing with the required notice of 7 days. You can tell Prof. Teach that you want 7 days’ notice, but then your hearing will most likely be put off until the nex semester.
It may be in your best interest to settle this matter before you leave campus, even if that means waiving the 7-day notice requirement. So, work with Professor X to schedule the hearing as soon as possible. You may need to stay longer than you had planned or even return to campus for your primary hearing. Or Professor X may schedule the hearing at the beginning of the following semester.
If Professor X needs to assign a final grade before he holds your hearing, he will record an Incomplete, which he will change to a regular letter grade after your academic integrity proceedings conclude.
Dropping the Course
Once Professor X charges you with an academic violation, you may not drop the course without his consent. The Code says, “A student charged with violating the Code of Academic Integrity in a course may not drop that course without the consent of the instructor unless the student has subsequently been cleared of the charges.”