According to Academic Dean Ivory Hills, there have been 13 Academic Honor Committee meetings this school year, yielding 10 findings. By January of the 2016-2017 school year, only one AHC meeting had occurred; by the end of the year, there were only four findings despite 15 total meetings. The 2015-2016 school year also had only four findings.
The AHC process enforces Deerfield’s Academic Integrity policy. As outlined in the Student Handbook, academic integrity is a “bond of trust between teacher and student.” Through the AHC, students may be investigated for plagiarism, defined in the student handbook as “ideas or work without proper acknowledgment … usually occur[ing] in two forms: copying and receiving outside writing help.”
If a teacher believes a student has plagiarized, the Employee Handbook obligates him or her to discuss the violation with the appropriate department chair. The case is brought to the Academic Dean if there is a mutual concern. If there is a consensus that a major school rule may have been violated, Dr. Hills calls for an AHC meeting, even if the student’s violation wasn’t intentional. If the offense doesn’t fit the criteria for an AHC — such as a probation violation, or a small offense — other disciplinary options may include action solely from the Academic Dean, a letter from the Academic Dean’s Office, or a discussion with the student’s teacher.
There are four possible outcomes from an AHC meeting: no finding, letter of warning, letter of reprimand, or a three-day suspension and probation.A letter of reprimand is a formal letter from the Academic Dean’s office that is not reported to colleges. A disciplinary warning means that a student was found in violation of a major school rule, but with significant mitigating circumstances. The highest level of consequence, a three-day suspension and academic probation, must be reported to colleges. A no-finding result means that the student did not break a major school rule; there are no consequences. Consequences often depend upon specific mitigating factors in the case, such as if a student was new to Deerfield and had different academic expectations at previous schools.
Dr. Hills considers both his and the committee members’ job to be twofold: to “help students learn from academic errors and scholarship mistakes,” and to “protect and maintain the integrity of a Deerfield education and a Deerfield diploma.”
History Teacher Mary Ellen Friends, a long-standing member of the AHC, commented, “The best outcomes that I have experienced are ones … in which the student feels supported … [and] buys into the idea that we want to be helpful.”
Both teachers emphasized that the AHC process is not a punishment. Rather, Dr. Hills explained that it should be taken as a learning opportunity: “The AHC’s purpose is to help students learn from their mistakes.”
Since the number of AHCs with findings has increased, Dr. Hills has been searching for patterns. He hypothesized that several of this year’s cases may have stemmed from “different practices at [students’] former schools” or more willingness of teachers to bring cases to the attention of the Academic Dean since the introduction of the letter of reprimand five years ago.
David Miller, Director of the Center for Service and Global Citizenship, said that “integrity is the most important thing [that] we teach in this school.” Ms. Friends added, “We know that there are a lot of you out there that are trying really hard, and we want to remind you that we care.”