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Penn's Community Standards and Accountability reported that the number of academic integrity and student conduct violations both decreased compared to previous school years. Credit: Kylie Cooper

Academic integrity violations for attaining an "unfair advantage over fellow students" increased seven-fold at Penn last school year — fueled in part by the unauthorized use of ChatGPT

An analysis by The Daily Pennsylvanian of the Penn Center for Community Standards and Accountability’s annual disciplinary report for 2022-2023 shows that while this type of violation increased, the overall number of academic integrity and student conduct violations both decreased compared to previous school years.

According to the report, the most common student conduct violations during the 2022-23 school year were disorderly conduct and failure to comply — each with 27 violations. The most common academic integrity violations were cheating, with 81 violations, and attaining an “unfair advantage over fellow students,” with 53 violations.

Student conduct and academic integrity violations decreased between the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years

The DP found a 16% reduction in total violations from 2021-22 to 2022-23, aligning with trends from previous years. Since the 2020-21 academic year and the height of the pandemic, there has been a 55% decline in Code of Academic Integrity violations and a 54% decline in Code of Student Conduct violations. 

The relatively high number of violations during 2020-21 was caused by increases in cheating, academic integrity infractions, and breaking the COVID Student Compact

Total academic integrity violations have returned to pre-pandemic levels with 209 cases during the 2022-23 school year. Meanwhile, student conduct violations are still higher than in previous years with 241 violations – approximately 1.5 times higher than the pre-pandemic 2018-19 academic year, which had 166 student conduct violations. 

Between the 2021-22 to 2022-23 academic years, most types of academic integrity violations have declined

Cheating and "attaining an unfair advantage over fellow students" were the two most common academic integrity violations in this year’s disciplinary report. 

While there was a 33% decrease in cheating cases since last year, CSA investigated a sharp increase in allegations of attaining an “unfair advantage over fellow students,” rising from seven violations last year to 53 violations this year. 

In an email to the DP, CSA director Julie Nettleton wrote that “unfair advantage” allegations are broadly inclusive of a variety of cases. 

She wrote that this year’s “unfair advantage” cases ranged from having unauthorized access to old computer science and nursing homework, having unauthorized access to other people’s papers, using ChatGPT or Chegg, lying about needing an extension, or accessing other people’s computers for homework answers or responses.

A single disciplinary incident can fall under multiple categories in the report. For instance, unauthorized use of ChatGPT can be seen as both an attempt to attain an unfair advantage and plagiarism, according to Nettleton.

The eight common student conduct violations in 2022-23 compared to average violations from the previous three years

The disciplinary report also cites 241 incidents of student conduct violations in the 2022-23 academic year. The most common violations deviate from the previous three years, which have consistently seen alcohol violations, hazing and sexual violence, and disorderly conduct as the most common.

Pablo Miguel Cerdera, the associate director of Restorative Practices @ Penn – a branch of CSA that uses restorative practices to manage student violations – said that higher violation counts may be due to a group event where there are multiple cases, such as the large number of disciplinary cases following Fossil Free Penn’s Convocation protest in August 2022. 

Nettleton declined to comment on any specific cases.

Of the 450 student conduct and academic integrity violations documented, 154 were resolved through Restorative Practices @ Penn. 

The CSA employs a variety of resolution modes for academic integrity and student conduct violations. The two most common modes of resolution in the 2022-23 academic year were signed agreements and restorative practices — the latter which rose by 16% from last year. 

Nettleton wrote that the increase in use of restorative practices has been intentional, starting with the 2019-20 academic year. In 2020, CSA created Restorative Practices @ Penn – a branch that oversees restorative practice efforts at the university. 

Restorative practices rises as second most common mode of resolution

Both signed agreements and restorative practices serve to prevent a violation from happening again and to prevent the implementation of sanctions as punishment.

The most common disciplinary sanctions during the 2022-23 academic year for academic integrity violations were probation, reprimand, and academic support. For student conduct violations, the most common sanctions were essays, community service, and reprimand. 

“One of the goals for institutionalizing Restorative Practices as part of the University’s disciplinary system was to create a system that prioritized accountability, healing and potential learning outcomes,” Nettleton wrote.

Cerdera said that restorative justice moves away from enacting punitive measures. Instead, the process involves bringing all consensual parties together to decide what outcomes are appropriate and how those outcomes can help students be more successful moving forward.

While Restorative Practices @ Penn primarily handles Code of Student Conduction violations, they have worked with many campus partners and with the Center of Community Standards and Accountability to foster a restorative mindset across campus, Cerdera said.