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10.0 Academic Misconduct and Dishonesty

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10.1 Procedures for Dealing with Academic Misconduct in Research and Scholarship

Unethical behavior in research and scholarship strikes at the heart of the scholarly and educational enterprise. A shared understanding of expectations and responsibilities is, therefore, critical — not only to the quality of the research enterprise but also to the collegial life of this community. Academic misconduct can take many forms, including fabrication or falsification of data, theft of ideas or direct plagiarism, and deliberate interference with the integrity of the work of others. Whatever the form, academic misconduct is behavior that may lead to a variety of disciplinary actions, including, in severe cases, expulsion of a student, dismissal of an employee, or termination of tenure.

Misconduct arises most readily in an environment in which supervision at each relevant level is not reasonably exercised. Laboratory and center directors and department heads must make clear the standards and protocols for research, scholarship, and creative work in their organizations and must set a tone (by example, through discussion and review of research, and, when possible, with written guidelines) that will make adherence to those standards a matter of course.

Reporting Academic Misconduct: Someone believing in good faith that an act of academic misconduct is taking or has taken place should in most circumstances present his or her concerns to the supervisor of the person whose work is in question. There may be circumstances in which, prior to doing this, it would be appropriate for the person who suspects misconduct to go directly to the suspected person. It is also possible to seek prior confidential advice from one of the Special Assistants to the President or from senior academic officers.

Supervisors who become aware of situations of possible academic misconduct, either by their own observations or because of reports from others, have a responsibility to report them to the Vice President for Research in order to assure that the proper procedure is followed. If a person feels that the Vice President for Research is not the appropriate person to whom to report in a particular case, the allegation may be referred to the Provost.

Inquiries and Investigations: An inquiry or investigation of allegations concerning academic misconduct raises difficult and sensitive issues for those making the allegations, for those suspected, and for those responsible for the inquiry or investigation. Therefore, inquiries and investigations and any subsequent proceedings should be conducted promptly and with care and sensitivity.

All members of the community are expected to cooperate with the proceedings of inquiries and investigations. Those involved should, to the maximum extent possible, protect the privacy of those who in good faith report apparent academic misconduct and of those who are the alleged offenders, and should take steps to preserve the confidentiality of the investigation and information pertaining to it to the maximum extent possible. However, legal requirements, including legal process, may require disclosure in certain cases.

Those involved also have a responsibility to take steps to prevent reprisal against the person bringing the allegation. Reprisal at any time against the person bringing the allegation is an act of misconduct subject to disciplinary action.

Those conducting the inquiry or investigation should, to the extent reasonably feasible, have the expertise to carry out a thorough and authoritative evaluation of the relevant information and have no real or apparent conflicts of interest bearing on the case.

The procedures that should be used in investigating any allegations of academic misconduct depend on the circumstances of each case. The Vice President for Research should be consulted regarding specific Institute procedures for conducting inquiries and investigations and should be contacted before either procedure is undertaken. The following guidelines provide an overview of the process, which involves an initial inquiry into allegations and apparent instances of academic misconduct, followed by a more formal investigation when that is warranted. An inquiry is initial information gathering and fact finding designed to determine whether or not an allegation deserves further investigation. An investigation is a formal examination and evaluation of all relevant facts to determine if misconduct has occurred.

These guidelines are consistent with more specific requirements applicable to the review, investigation, and reporting of allegations of scientific misconduct arising in the context of certain federally sponsored research. These requirements are set forth in the Supplement to MIT Procedures for Dealing with Academic Misconduct, available from the Vice President for Research or the Director of the Office of Sponsored Programs.

Unless they are subject to the requirements of that supplement, cases involving students will be addressed in accordance with Section 10.2 Procedures for Dealing with Student Academic Dishonesty.

Conducting an Inquiry: The supervisor of the alleged offender is responsible, in most cases, for initiating the inquiry to determine if an investigation is warranted by notifying the Vice President for Research of the allegations. The Vice President for Research will appoint an impartial fact finder or fact finding committee to conduct the inquiry. The inquiry should be initiated promptly after written allegations or other evidence of possible academic misconduct become known and are brought to the attention of the Vice President for Research. Barring unusual circumstances, the alleged offender will be notified in writing by the Vice President for Research or, in some cases, the relevant senior officer.

While the fact finder's inquiry may vary in accordance with the circumstances of each case, the initial inquiry should, to the extent possible, be based on objective data and avoid unnecessary disclosures of the inquiry to others. Cases that depend specifically upon the observations or statements of the person bringing the allegation may require the involvement of that individual. Other cases that can rely on written information may permit the person bringing the allegation to remain anonymous. The inquiry might also include informal discussion with others of more senior responsibility, such as the relevant laboratory or center director, department head, or vice president. At Lincoln Laboratory, informal discussions might be held with the relevant division head or assistant director.

The inquiry will be concluded with a written report summarizing the process, the information reviewed, and the conclusions as to whether or not an investigation is warranted.

If the fact finder or fact finding committee concludes on the basis of this inquiry that no reasonable basis exists for a belief that academic misconduct may have occurred and that further investigation is unlikely to produce any significant evidence of misconduct, the report should contain sufficient documentation to permit a later assessment of the reasons for this conclusion. The fact finder will provide a draft copy of the report to the alleged offender who may comment on the report. Those comments will become part of the written report. After considering those comments and revising the report, if he or she so chooses, the fact finder should submit the report to the Vice President for Research, together with a copy of the comments of the alleged offender. The Vice President for Research will submit the report to the Provost along with a recommendation on next steps to be taken, including communicating the findings to others who should be informed.

If the fact finder determines that there is a reasonable basis to believe that misconduct may have occurred, whether or not the evidence is conclusive, the alleged offender will be given a copy of the draft report. The report should include all information supporting the allegations. The alleged offender shall be offered the opportunity to respond to the allegations and present such information as he or she wishes. This information will be made a part of the record. The fact finder and the alleged offender may meet in person for the fact finder to review this information. The alleged offender may be accompanied by an MIT associate (as defined in Section 9.6 Complaint and Grievance Procedures) at any meeting during the inquiry process, and should be informed of this before any such meetings take place.

After considering the responses of the alleged offender, the fact finder should prepare a final report, including an accurate summary of the information offered by the alleged offender, and forward it to the Vice President for Research. The Vice President for Research will forward the report to the Provost with a recommendation as to whether or not an investigation should be initiated, and a recommendation as to others who should be informed.

Conducting an Investigation: If the Provost concludes that an investigation is warranted, he or she will direct the Vice President for Research to appoint a fact finding person or investigating committee that may include members from outside the Institute. At the same time, the alleged offender will be informed of this action by the Provost. The Provost is also responsible for notifying the sponsor of a research project in which misconduct is suspected as soon as the decision has been made to undertake an investigation and for keeping the sponsor informed of the status and the outcome of the investigation.

In each case the investigating person or committee will conduct a full investigation in accordance with Institute policy and practice in order to determine all the relevant facts. This will normally include the examination of all relevant documentation and interviews with all individuals who are involved or may have pertinent information. The investigation should be initiated promptly and should be completed as expeditiously as possible. The alleged offender should be provided with all necessary information in a timely manner to facilitate the preparation of a response and ensure an opportunity to address the charges and the supporting information in detail. The alleged offender may be accompanied to any interview, meeting, or hearing by an MIT associate. The person or persons conducting the investigation should consider all relevant information, reach findings of fact based on such information, and not be bound by the findings of the prior inquiry process. Oversight for this process and specific guidance will be provided by the Office of the Vice President for Research.

The investigating person or committee will detail its findings in a final report that should include substantiating documentation. A draft of this report will be made available to the subject(s) of the investigation for written comment. The final report, including comments of the subject, will then be given to the Vice President for Research. Upon receiving the report and comments, the Vice President for Research will notify the alleged offender that the investigation has been concluded and that a decision with respect to any disciplinary or other action will be reached as expeditiously as possible. The Vice President for Research will deliver the report to the Provost along with a recommendation for disciplinary actions to be taken and persons to be notified.

Disciplinary actions that the Provost might take after considering the report include a reprimand, termination of employment, or other alteration of status of the person in question. In the case of the termination of a faculty member or the expulsion of a student, a recommendation to the President would be involved. (See also Section 3.3 Termination of Tenure.) In addition, the Provost has the authority to mitigate the effects of the misconduct by withdrawing MIT's name and sponsorship from pending abstracts and papers and by notifying persons known to have relied upon any work affected by the misconduct.

If, at any point, investigation reveals the charges to be unsubstantiated, every reasonable effort should be made to restore and protect the reputation of the researcher or scholar under investigation. A report will be prepared documenting the reasons for the conclusion that the allegation is without merit. That report will be given to the Vice President for Research, who will submit it to the Provost along with recommendations concerning it, including recommendations of others who should be informed. Appropriate actions should be taken against anyone found to have brought intentionally dishonest charges.

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