A series of policies are in place at USC to ensure integrity among students and instructors and to promote the academic goals of the institution. Instructors are directed to recognize the needs of all students in the College, including those with disabilities. To ensure the safety of students and the broader USC community, several policies outline the appropriate steps that instructors should take, or relevant departments they should consult, when faced with challenges that exceed their professional abilities, including unanticipated or extraordinary situations.
The policies most pertinent to instruction in the College are described in this section. For a summary of all policies pertaining to study at USC, see the online version of SCampus.
Registration and Withdrawal Schedule and Grading Policies
A semester at USC is divided into three parts. During the first period, weeks 1 through 3, students may drop or add classes to their schedule without penalty and without paying a fee. Class attendance tends to fluctuate during these weeks as students settle into a final schedule for the semester.
During the second period, weeks 4 through 12, if a student drops (withdraws) from a class, he or she receives an automatic grade of “W” for the course. The student will not receive a refund of tuition for the course and the student’s name will remain on your roster and grade sheet for the semester, with a “W” to indicate the withdrawal. The withdrawal, however, does not affect the student’s cumulative GPA. If a student does not drop the course, but does not attend class, turn in assignments, or take the appropriate examinations through the 12th week, the instructor marks the class list with a “UW” (unofficial withdrawal) for the student. Unlike an official withdrawal, a “UW” is calculated into a student’s GPA, and carries a value of 0.0.
After week 12, during the third period, a student may not withdraw from the course. However, a student who is ill or who has a family emergency may ask for an incomplete (“IN”) in the course, provided he or she submits adequate documentation to support the claim. Consult with the course instructor as to whether or not to grant the student the incomplete. If the instructor grants this grade, the instructor must fill out and sign a contract specifying the work remaining and a timetable for its completion (a maximum of one year). If the student does not complete the course within a year, the grade turns into an “IX,” effectively an “F” in terms of the student’s GPA.
If a student fails to hand in work or to take the final examination, but does not request an incomplete, the instructor enters the missing grades as “0” or “F” and computes the final grade on this basis. An instructor may never leave a line blank when entering grades for a class or section; every student must receive a grade.
At the beginning of the semester, and again once the class roster is settled in your course, remind students of the importance of regular attendance. If students disappear for most of the semester, then reappear toward the end with desperate pleas to make up coursework, they will likely do poorly in the course. While it is the responsibility of the student to maintain regular attendance, a brief email to a student who has missed several classes can at times make it easier for the student to return to the class and minimize any unfortunate consequences of his or her absence. For more information on grading policies, refer to the USC Department of Grading.
Any changes to a final grade must be requested through a Change of Grade form. Teaching Assistants may not request this form. If a student approaches you with a request for a grade change, and you conclude that an actual error has been made in the calculation of the student’s grade, consult with the course instructor on the student’s behalf or refer the student to the course instructor. Grade changes will not be made on the basis of special consideration for an individual student, and students must complete all course work before the semester has ended, unless they have been granted an incomplete.
For more information on grading policies at USC, consult the Grading and Correction of Grades Handbook from the USC Office of Academic Records and Registrar.
Students with Disabilities
USC is committed to accommodating students with disabilities who might otherwise be hampered in their pursuit of an excellent undergraduate education. Many students inform the university of their needs before they begin their course of study. Others may not recognize their disabilities or the full impact of their disabilities until they are confronted with the challenges of their particular courses. If a student approaches you with a claim of a disability, direct him or her immediately to the Disabilities Services and Programs Office (DSP). DSP will then determine which accommodations are recommended for the student and accommodation letters will be generated for the student to share with his or her faculty. These accommodations may include, but are not limited to:
- Extended time on examinations
- Note-takers for class
- Assistive technology such as recording devices
- Word processors to type exams
Once registered with DSP, it is the responsibility of the student to meet with you to discuss the accommodations recommended by DSP. To protect the privacy of the student, these meetings should take place in a private location during office hours. Whatever the student’s special needs may be in relation to the course, it is important that you make the student feel comfortable.
It is not appropriate for you or the instructor to question any recommended accommodation unless your department has set up a clearly communicated policy regarding reasonable accommodations. DSP encourages all departments and programs to discuss which accommodations might fundamentally alter a course or program and to share these concerns with DSP.
If you do not have the facilities for recommended testing accommodations, contact your department for assistance. Due to limited resources, DSP will only assist with exams requiring special accommodations such as individual rooms, word processors, readers, and scribes. If DSP is unable to assist, it is the responsibility of the academic department to satisfy the testing needs of the student. Please note that DSP requires two weeks notice for all testing accommodations.
Every syllabus at USC must include the following paragraph verbatim:
Academic Accommodations: Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure the letter is delivered to me as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301 and is open 8:30am-5:00pm, Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776.
Student Integrity and Plagiarism
The USC reference guide, Trojan Integrity, provides a comprehensive explanation of how to identify and confront academic dishonesty among students. The guide also outlines the necessary steps for formally reporting plagiarism or cheating by a student, if his or her behavior merits such action.
Within the USC academic community, the more egregious acts of academic dishonesty – purchasing papers, cheating on exams, copying lab reports – are generally rare, yet it is the responsibility of the instructor to be alert to such possibilities and to create a learning environment in which such acts are openly discouraged and, if identified, appropriately punished. More likely, however, an instructor will encounter more subtle acts of academic dishonesty, many of which are conducted unwittingly by students who have yet to gain the necessary tools of effective research or proper time management.
It is the role of all instructors, therefore, to educate students on what constitutes cheating and plagiarism, to set a clear policy for how academic dishonesty will be handled, and to teach the value of maintaining academic integrity in one’s work. Examples of academic dishonesty, as outlined in SCampus, include the following:
- Submission of someone else’s work as one’s own, whether the material is paraphrased or copied verbatim.
- Improper acknowledgment of sources in essays or papers.
- Unauthorized collaboration:
- Submission of material that has been edited or revised by another person that results in substantive changes in content or style.
- Unauthorized collaboration on a project, homework, or other assignment.
- Any use of external assistance in the completion of an academic assignment and/or during an examination (unless permitted by the instructor), including communicating with fellow students during an exam, allowing another student to copy from an exam, possession or use of unauthorized notes, calculator, or other materials, and any instruments that can convey exam answers, such as cell phones.
- Submission of altered work after grading, including changing answers after an exam or assignment has been graded and returned.
- Obtaining for oneself or for another person a solution to homework or other assignments, or a copy of an exam or exam key without the expressed consent of the instructor.
- Using an essay, term paper, or project in more than one course without permission of the instructors of both courses.
- Taking a course or completing any coursework for another student, or allowing another individual to take a course, or complete coursework in one’s stead.
- Submitting material for lab assignments, class projects, or other assignments that is wholly or partially falsified, or otherwise does not represent work undertaken by the student.
Preventing Academic Dishonesty
Deterring academic dishonesty often involves anticipating potential vulnerabilities on the part of students and identifying early signs of unacceptable behavior. Students are more likely to cheat if they remain anonymous to the instructor and thus are able to minimize their shame in having compromised their principles. To reinforce student integrity and student responsibility for their work, it is important to get to know all of your students as soon as possible, not only by name, but also by writing style, manner of argumentation, work habits, and approximate level of achievement. Giving students a brief impromptu in-class writing assignment the first week of classes, for example, is an effective means to acquire a record of handwriting and writing ability for potential future comparison. Requiring the submission of drafts and research notes with course papers poses more challenges for students who might borrow ideas from the internet or elsewhere rather than turn in original work.
Given the relatively small size of discussion and lab sections, these academic environments are generally more conducive to fostering familiarity with students. Teaching Assistants, therefore, bear a great deal of responsibility in steering faltering students in the right direction, and in detecting those situations where ethical boundaries have been breached.
Academic dishonesty undermines the primary goals of university education – the pursuit of knowledge and original thought – and thus detracts from the mission of the entire institution. In all disciplines, students must learn how to draw effectively upon existing scholarship to support and guide their own ideas. On many college campuses, including USC’s, stealing material from the internet is occurring more frequently among students. Many entering freshman fail to grasp the distinctions between quotation and paraphrase of supporting material, and few have a sense for how and when to cite resources in the production of their own work. While most students at USC will be introduced to these principles in their required classes in the Writing Program, for many the nuances of research and citation are not immediately evident and must therefore be reinforced in subsequent classes. Once you are familiar with a student’s writing, it is often apparent when the writing or ideas are not the student’s own. If you have suspicions of plagiarism, consult Trojan Integrity for the steps to take to determine whether an act of academic dishonesty has been committed.
Most students who come to USC have excelled throughout high school and expect to maintain their academic success in college. For this reason, acts of cheating or plagiarism are less likely at the beginning of a semester when students feel motivated to tackle a course’s challenges. If, during the course of the semester, a student is disappointed with his or her performance or confronts unanticipated failure, there is a chance he or she will resort to more desperate, dishonest means to maintain a level of success in the course. Intervening early on in a semester to provide encouragement to a frustrated student or to direct him or her to useful resources at USC might prevent the student from cheating to keep his or her grades up.
Students commit acts of academic dishonesty more often when they are overwhelmed by their workload or are facing approaching deadlines. Students also sometimes fall behind in their work after large-scale social events or weekend trips for football games if they have not planned in advance to meet their academic responsibilities. The end of the semester, quite naturally, is a particularly stressful time for many students; assignments continue to pile up and exams are looming. Encouraging better time management among students, by setting multiple due dates for different stages of a research project or by organizing study sessions for exams, for example, can help ward off late-semester panic among many students.
Students resort to cheating in many different types of situations, but often during moments of weakness and poor judgment when their efforts to prepare for an exam have fallen short. For this reason it is important to set up examination environments that discourage cheating among students. Trojan Integrity [link] outlines numerous precautions to take when proctoring exams, some of which are designed to trap the more premeditated acts of cheating, such as taking a test for another student, while others are meant to discourage students from simply looking to their neighbors for the right answers.
When students are struggling in a course they often turn to fellow students for support. While it is valuable to foster an atmosphere of intellectual collaboration, students must also learn to determine when such help has exceeded the level of what is appropriate. Students may ask friends to critique an essay or an assignment, but if they ask them to edit their work or to solve a problem for them, that input is considered illegitimate assistance. The students at USC have much to gain from each other, but they must also learn to take complete responsibility for their own work.
Cell phones, newspapers, food, and laptops, among other distractions, have the potential to disrupt the learning process within an academic environment. At the outset of the semester, it is important to establish a clear policy of acceptable behavior for the course. Those who fail to observe these guidelines not only distract fellow students from the more important lessons of the course but they also undermine your authority as an instructor.
Trojan Integrity recommends numerous ways to deal effectively with disruptive classroom behavior. In all cases, it is best to address the problem as soon as possible. For rude behavior or minor disruptions – students chatting, using PDAs or cell phones, arriving late to class – a quick admonishment and follow-up email are often enough to humble a student into compliance.
At times, however, instructors will encounter students who do not comply when asked to cease disruptive behavior. Such students should be warned that if they do not stop they will be asked to leave. If, after a confrontation, a student does not respond appropriately, he or she should be asked to leave and advised to meet with you during office hours. You may wish to consult with the Office of Student Judicial Affairs prior to that meeting.
If a student refuses to leave class after being asked, notify the student that the Department of Public Safety (740-4321) will be contacted, and that disciplinary action will result from the encounter. If, at any time, a situation of disruptive behavior escalates, or if someone starts to threaten or harass any member of the class, including yourself, contact the Department of Public Safety immediately.
It is the expectation that students can and will be reasonable if they are given adequate information and clear parameters for appropriate behavior. A confrontation can often be avoided if students who begin to act inappropriately are given an opportunity to reflect on their behavior and to develop strategies for dealing with their issues, such as frustrations with a particular course or instructor. Informal interventions such as these should also include warnings of the potential consequences of subsequent disruptive behavior.
If disruptive behavior continues, despite less formal interventions, contact the Office for Student Judicial Affairs to initiate disciplinary action.
On rare occasions, Teaching Assistants may encounter threatening, intimidating, or harassing behavior by a student outside the classroom. In responding to such behavior, speak calmly to prevent the situation from escalating. Use a “time-out” to allow the student to regain composure and offer to schedule a meeting at a more appropriate time and place. If inappropriate behavior persists or seems threatening in any way, advise the student that the Department of Public Safety will be notified and that disciplinary action will be taken. If the student does not comply, contact DPS immediately (740-4321).
As a condition of their employment, all Teaching Assistants are required to take USC’s Harassment Prevention Training program before the semester begins.
Claims of harassment are based on the perception that a Teaching Assistant’s gestures, expressions, or remarks concerning race, ethnicity, disability, age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, or religion have created a negative learning environment for the student. If the remark or gesture is degrading or very striking, one instance is enough to prompt a case of harassment. In more subtle instances, a pattern of pervasive and unwanted behavior may warrant a case.
To avoid the perception of prejudice:
- Do not make facial expressions or laugh at possible sexual innuendo or other double entendres.
- Do not make jokes that someone might interpret as harassment.
- Do not discuss political or other controversial material that is not directly related to the subject of the class.
- Be respectful when students ask for accommodations because of religious holidays. If in doubt, speak to the course instructor and call the Office of the Dean of Religious Life.
Avoid claims of sexual harassment by doing the following:
- Keep the door ajar when holding office hours.
- Do not take individuals or small groups of students for coffee or meals.
- Never ask a student for a date or any other non-professional meeting.
- Keep a written record of each meeting with a student.
- Do not touch a student.
For a detailed description of USC’s policy on sexual harassment, see SCampus.
A copy of the policies and procedures for sexual harassment complaints can be obtained from the Office of Equity and Diversity (FIG 202, 740-5086).