An open letter to Lithuania’s university students – opinion
2020-07-09

Lithuania’s universities and its students have an opportunity to flourish – if there’s mutual trust, writes Jonathan Boyd, a professor at ISM University of Management and Economics and chairman of the university’s ethics committee.

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I want to be honest with you: many of your lecturers are worried that, during online exams and assignments, they may not be able to monitor you as closely as they do under normal conditions.

And I would like to explain why none of you should take advantage of that and why I firmly believe that they can trust you.

Read more: Lithuania calls nationwide quarantine: shutting non-essential shops and closing border to foreigners

The ways we teach and learn have been seriously disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic: universities have been forced to close their doors and deliver courses online.

I also understand how hard this pandemic and the quarantine measures may have affected some of you, both on a personal level and on your ability to learn in this new online environment, physically isolated from your peers and your lecturers.

But in the midst of this disruption, I see an opportunity for Lithuania’s universities to flourish and I want to appeal to each of you for your help.

I believe that, in times of crisis, unexpected opportunities present themselves: today, we have a golden opportunity to prove to ourselves and to each other that Lithuania’s shared commitment to academic integrity is strong.

While learning online has changed many things, some things have remained the same.

Despite the challenges we all face, moving to online learning and assessment does not exempt students from their obligation to act according to academic ethics.

A reminder of what constitutes academic dishonesty, and how to avoid it, can be found here. At my university, and I expect at yours too, instructors will continue to carefully check for instances of cheating and plagiarism.

Ultimately, though, my message is a positive one: I simply want to remind everyone of why academic ethics is so important. It is about fairness.

Your lecturers want to ensure that all students are assessed on the same terms and under the same conditions.

And just as referrees ensure that a game is played fairly, your exams are typically monitored by invigilators.

But, as I mentioned, in an online learning environment, your lecturers may not be able to monitor you closely.

Now, I want to give you good reasons why, even though you may not be closely monitored, you should be honest. If you really consider it, you’ll realise that you have very good reasons for not cheating:

– Ask yourself: do you study merely to be assigned a grade, or do you learn the material because knowledge is its own reward?

– Assessments are not only meant to determine your level of knowledge relative to your peers; it is also meant, and even primarily meant, for you to determine how well you have learned the material, and for you to be able to set and measure your own personal goals. By cheating on an assessment, you are, in a sense, cheating yourself.

– A diploma from your university is a valuable thing that will serve you well in the future, and one of the things that make it so valuable is your university’s reputation for adhering to international standards of academic ethics. To maintain the excellent reputation of Lithuania’s universities, we must all play our part.

– During this quarantine period, we are all learning a very valuable lesson: to contain the pandemic, we are all required to sacrifice our short-term selfish interests for the sake of protecting the health of our families, friends, and communities. We can also apply this critical life-lesson here: even if there is an opportunity to break the rules, we should refrain from doing so to ensure fairness and to protect each other.

I know firsthand that Lithuania’s universities stand committed to providing an open and competitive environment that does not privilege cheaters.

But this requires trust, for while trust and academic integrity are always closely linked, during this period they are more closely linked than ever. It is my sincerest hope that throughout Lithuania instructors can be confident in their trust towards students, and students in each other.

As my Scottish grandmother liked to say, “come the hour, come the man”. In other words, when an opportunity arises, we should rise to the occasion.