What is academic integrity?

There was a rumble in the Nigerian university system, the University of Calabar as a microcosm, two months ago when the eerie news concerning some senior academics of the University jolted the world. It was the first time that a “heist” of that magnitude and dimension would be unearthed within the university system.

In a press release issued by the Registrar and Secretary to the Council of the said University, Dr (Mrs.) Julia Omang, five lecturers were dismissed and ten others were demoted for “academic dishonesty”. Four of the dismissed lecturers were guilty of plagiarism while the fifth one was dismissed for financial fraud. The fraud was that of salary overpayment, through which the lecturer enriched himself to the tune of N7,268,044.95, over a period of 11 months. The dismissed lecturers are Dr Azubuike Iloeje, Dr Maurice Bisong, Mr Odeh Ubi, Dr Paulinus Noah and the fifth, Dr Damiam Agom.

The lecturers were said to have published their works in fake or cloned journals which they submitted and on account of which they obtained promotion. Prof. Udoayang and Dr Asuquo Akabom were therefore demoted to the rank of Senior Lecturer while Dr A. I. Afangideh, Dr Francis Okpiliya and Dr K. B. C.  Ashipu were demoted to the rank of Lecturer I. “Besides their demotion, they are to refund all monies earned from their unmerited promotion and barred from promotion for the next six years”, the Registrar added in the release as contained in many newspapers on March 15, 2013.

While justifying the action earlier this month, the Vice-Chancellor of UNICAL, Prof. James Epoke, said it is important “to promote discipline among…staff and students” and act on the discovery of the committee set up by the University to assess the lecturers.

While many people have hailed the University of Calabar for its courage and firmness in addressing a cankerworm that has deeply eaten into the fabric of many universities, the development would ginger many others to beam searchlights on their institutions. It is well known that students plagiarise their long essays and projects by doing “cut and paste” and it would be good for supervisors to be vigilant in order to imbue them early enough with the virtue of academic integrity. What is academic integrity?

Academic integrity (AI) concerns truth, transparency and self-discipline in all academic activities. It places a lot of expectation on all members of the academic community to act honestly in all situations. According to the Centre for Academic Integrity (CAI), the hallmarks of AI are “honesty, trust, respect, fairness and responsibility.”

It is actually lack of academic integrity that manifests in the low credibility accorded the degrees of our universities in some quarters, with some people in high places claiming that Nigerian graduates are not employable which I think is a half-truth. And of the half-truth, Lord Alfred Tennyson once wrote:  “A lie that’s a half-truth is the wickedest lie of all/ For a lie that’s all a lie can be met and fought outright/ But a lie that is a half-truth is a harder matter to fight.”

There are researchers in some universities that are known to have taken their lack of academic integrity further by submitting their students’ projects for competitive awards and grants. They even lack the decorum to acknowledge such supervisees and the conscience to give them ordinary crumbs from the largess they get, which should have ordinarily accrued to the original researcher. Their cups will be full one day.

In confronting academic indiscipline frontally, the University of Ilorin is known to take a front seat. There is no culture of impunity here among staff and students after the University purged itself some years back the same way the irrepressible Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, said last Wednesday at the University that the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, should continue to purge the judiciary.

While the staff know that there are rules, students as well appreciate that they will “face Tanke”, to use their lingo, if they violate the principle of academic integrity through examination malpractices or conduct unbecoming.

So, as our students enter the examination halls today as the 2012/2013 Rain Semester examinations commence, and The Alma Mater wishes them resounding successes, it is important for them and all to always be mindful of academic integrity. It is better to fail honorably and repeat a class than to carry “expo” and be humiliated out of the University, a la page 5 of this publication.