Illustration by Joaquin Kunkel
As we look toward NYU Abu Dhabi’s future, we need to ask critical questions about all facets of its existence and mission. What can we do to prevent social compartmentalization? To reverse falling yield and growing attrition rates? To ensure that with growing class sizes come students of the same high caliber? To quote Martin Luther King Jr. can we ensure that recognition “comes not by favoritism, but by fitness” and that a student’s nationality does not matter in the university’s appraisal of their academic and extracurricular work?
It is worthless for us to purvey academic freedom if that freedom is not buttressed by integrity.
Whereas academic freedom pertains to scholars’ and students’ ability to research and publish without repercussions, academic integrity entails the absence of duplicity and is partly manifested in the honest recognition of scholarly work. To use a sporting metaphor, academic freedom guarantees that a race occurs, while academic integrity ensures that the race is fair.
NYUAD is in a unique position with regard to the fact that what constitutes cheating and plagiarism in the US is not necessarily what other cultures consider cheating or plagiarism. More must be done to unequivocally educate first year students on what constitutes dishonest academic work at our institution specifically. No discipline has been immune to the epidemic of plagiarism at NYUAD, though it would be farcical to suggest that plagiarism is endemic only here. Whether it be translating articles from another language and submitting it to the The Gazelle as an original piece, or transcribing Youtube videos into text and submitting the text as one’s original work, cheating happens — and we must address it head-on.
Likewise, when we hold the quality of students’ work to double standards, we not only jeopardize the project of this university, but we disrespect students and faculty alike. Perhaps a petty — and, many argue, inconsequential — manifestation of an obvious disparity takes place in the Capstone Awards. Upon the successful completion of the Capstone Festival every year in the Social Sciences, Capstone Awards are bestowed upon the two best capstones in each major. It seems conspicuous, at least, that for as long as this award has been handed out, the award ceremony has been mired in allegations of double standards. It has been speculated that the awards are not bestowed based upon the quality of the work alone but based partly on the characteristics of the student. This disparate standard not only disadvantages students who are not of a certain background, but it unfairly characterizes students of the same demographic as receiving the award only because of that shared trait, rather than on merit alone.
We have three recommendations that will help ameliorate, but will not completely solve, our problems of academic integrity.
First, we suggest that the capstone be made optional, but that it be requisite for receiving Latin Honors. Students who choose not to partake in the capstone course should be able to take two other major electives that have a substantial research component. This avenue may help alleviate the pressure for certain faculty to give awards to some students based partly on demographic considerations due to the relatively smaller number of students in the capstone track.
Second, regardless of the criteria held in the admissions process, the academic sphere must remain an equal ground in the exchange and creation of ideas. This does not mean ceasing to help students who need more attention, or judging papers solely based on their grammar and sentence structure, which would disadvantage non-native English speakers. Instead, we maintain that demographic considerations should not play a role in the grading of students’ work. Name-blind assignments, tests and quizzes may be one way to achieve this parity.
Third, we suggest that a seminar given by deans or by tenured faculty members be given to all incoming first year students, laying out exactly what constitutes cheating and plagiarism and delineating the penalties for pursuing such practices. We understand that more concrete policies were created this year regarding dishonest student behavior; communicating these policies effectively and clearly will help staunch the seemingly recent uptick in duplicity.
Are we bound by a robust academic mandate or have we become an academic mill? As our university looks to the future, it must double-down on its commitment to academic integrity. By continuing this discussion and perhaps adopting certain policies recommended here, we believe that recent fears about the direction and standards of this university will be emphatically disproven.
Nikolaj Ramsdal Nielsen and Tyler Headly are contributing writers. Email them at [email protected]