The Integrity Paradox: How the Office of Academic Integrity Goes Beyond the Honor Code

By: Ruchama Benhamou  |  April 16, 2024

By Ruchama Benhamou, Managing Editor 

In recent semesters, a new-found phenomenon has plagued the campus halls of Yeshiva University. As an academic institution, YU rightfully demands academic honesty and integrity from all their students in all areas. Although this is a noble and important emphasis that should be enforced, unfortunately, many students have been wrongfully accused of cheating through the use of AI by the Board of Academic Integrity. 

It is no secret that professors, teacher’s assistants, and the administration as a whole have begun every semester with a firm announcement of the consequences of academic dishonesty, attempting to scare students into refraining from the use of ChatGPT or any other form of AI for assignments. As aforementioned, while of course it is important to eliminate cheating of any and all kinds and truly take the ramifications of academic disintegrity seriously, the administration should not be looking to catch students when there is no issue at hand. 

I commend the administration’s approach to clamping down on various forms of cheating in order to keep our university’s name true to its principles and Torot. I condemn, however, the novel trend of intensely attempting to find students guilty of academic dishonesty. According to the mission statement of Academic Integrity: “Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l ruled that if you get a job using a cheated grade, every dollar you earn from it is considered stolen. It is during college that students define who they are and who they will be after graduation. The academic integrity expectations and policies that follow are intended to help foster the traits of honesty and integrity that students will need throughout life.” However, an important Jewish value is the notion of “dan le’kaf zechut” or more commonly known as giving others the benefit of the doubt. This pivotal Jewish ideal is what the office of Academic Integrity lacks, and if they truly sought to uphold our university’s name-bearing mission, they would take this notion just as seriously.

After speaking with many different students (who wish to remain anonymous), across all undergraduate schools and campuses, I was utterly shocked to hear about the horrors of how the Academic Integrity team  has mistakenly accused innocent students of cheating and mishandled “academic dishonesty.”

One student remarked, “I was flagged for using ChatGPT in an essay for one of my gen-ed classes. I was so surprised when I got the email from Academic Integrity saying that I used AI even though I did not at all. I actually wrote my paper with the Writing Center, who watched me the entire time I wrote the paper. Additionally, I got an A on the first paper (of course without cheating), so why would I use it for this paper? After meeting with them, and explaining this all to them, they were unsure if they were even correct about the situation. I was very worried about what this meant for my future. I was stressed for weeks and tried to find out more about the situation. They were extremely uncommunicative with me and did not handle the situation at all. They eventually, after weeks, got back to me explaining how they were mistaken and how they realized I didn’t cheat. To be honest, although I was relieved, I was so angry. I had been anxious for months about something I didn’t even do! With no apology or any kind of communication, at that point I was just happy it was all over.” 

Another student similarly explained, “Last spring semester, I wrote a final paper for a class, and later got an email saying ‘AI was detected in my paper’ even though I didn’t use AI on the paper. They said that I could either fight them on that claim or not. I said I wanted to fight it of course, so they set up a meeting with the Academic Integrity board… They were 45 minutes late, on a Friday which is busy because of Shabbat, and when I met with them to explain what happened, they kept asking me for proof. I wrote my paper on Notes because I was on a flight so I couldn’t use Google Docs. I was just copying and pasting it from my notes to a Doc after and they kept pushing me very condescendingly trying to catch me in some lie, even though I was not lying.” 

It seems that this narrative is a common notion woven through each student’s experience with the  Academic Integrity Board. Their blatant disregard for other people’s time as well as their unprofessionalism surrounding meetings is shocking. 

Furthermore this student explains, “I was at work. I originally thought it would be a 30 minute meeting, but they left me on Zoom for 3 hours, which made me miss so much at work. Then, when they had to go to their next meeting, they said they wanted to meet with me again next week. At that point I was so tired of all of this and could not meet with them again for 3 hours, that I would rather have gotten a zero. In the end though, I told them that I couldn’t meet for that long next week and that they had all my information. Then, they finally got back to me explaining that they had no proof for this claim and that even though they think I used AI, there was no evidence of detection. I ended up getting a B on that paper (even though it should have been an A), as well as a B in the class, even though I got A’s on all of the other assignments. Not only did I end with a B, but I had an incomplete on my transcript for the whole summer, and every time I asked them about it, they would tell me to be patient as if this was all my fault. I only found out the next semester and was so disappointed.”

Similarly, a different student stated, “It felt like my professor was looking for something that wasn’t there the whole semester. When I was notified that my assignment was marked as using AI, I couldn’t believe it. Even though my professor notified me immediately that they believed I used AI, in December, this whole process was dragged out until March because of the Academic Integrity team. After I met with the Academic Integrity board, they left me hanging for three months not knowing what was happening. They kept saying they would let me know in a week but never did. At the end, when the Dean sent me a letter that there wouldn’t be any consequences because there wasn’t enough evidence, it sounded like they never believed me. They still believed I did it, even though I didn’t.”

These are just a few of the student testimonies regarding the irreparable damage caused by the Academic Integrity Office’s faulty accusations. I am not advocating for the Academic Integrity team to stop its efforts in catching cheaters. I am advocating that they do not go looking for them. Trust that we students of Yeshiva University are honest and good. We are faithful and respectful. Trust that we are not academically dishonest or cheat at every chance we get. Trust us enough to give us the benefit of the doubt always.