Sanctioning Introduction

After a Hearing Board finds that a student is In Violation of the Honor System, or the Executive Board for the expedited process considers the case of a student who has admitted to being In Violation, the designated Board will begin a sanctioning process, which consists of two phases.

In the first phase, the Board determines the appropriate sanction for the given offense without consideration of any additional factors.  This recommended sanction provides the starting point for the second phase of sanctioning, in which the Board considers any mitigating and/or exacerbating circumstances. The sanction, which a Board settles on as a majority decision, is a recommendation to the Dean of the student’s school, who will make a final decision regarding sanction. The Dean may not overturn a finding of In Violation, but can reduce or increase the sanction by one level as seems appropriate in the Dean’s experience or judgment.

The standard of proof for a finding of In Violation as defined for the Honor System is the preponderance of the evidence. In less legal terms, one might ask, “Is it more likely than not that the student is guilty of academic dishonesty?” This preponderance is based on the presence of more convincing evidence and its probable truth or accuracy, and not on the amount of evidence, or proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” which is the more severe standard for a criminal proceeding. 

An Honor System sanction is above all intended to be an educational outcome, and may be shared with other University personnel on a “need to know” basis. This would include those who in their professional capacity, and in accordance with FERPA (aka the Buckley Amendment), have access to a student’s file.

Sanctioning: Is the Outcome Educational?  

The primary purpose of the sanction is to further the educational mission of the Honor System. The  purpose is not merely to punish the student, even if some students (and faculty) understandably  will see it that way, but rather to facilitate the benefits of  academic and emotional growth for a  student who can be  a better, more honest student and a more responsible member of the  Georgetown academic community.  

A violation of Honor System academic standards will result in a sanction that is determined by an  examination of the facts of the case. It is understood that a student should receive no less a sanction  for a violation because they admit to what was alleged. Both an Executive Board (expedited cases)  and a Hearing Board (cases decided by hearing), should follow the same sanctioning guidelines  described below.

The Dean of the school of the student found In Violation at a hearing will make a final determination  of sanction.  The Dean cannot change the Honor Council’s finding of In Violation, nor can the Dean  alter the recommended sanction by more than one level up or down.  If the student is in violation, a  sanction will be recommended from the range of sanctions delineated in the guidelines for  sanctioning (continued below).  

In comparison with the recommendation of a sanction by a Hearing Board, it would be very rare  for the Dean to change the sanction of a student who admits to having violated the standards of the  Honor System, and already has accepted in writing the expedited sanction assigned by the Executive Board.   In an expedited case, the action of the Dean of the student’s school is intended to validate that same  sanction and to be maintained in the student’s academic and Honor Council record. However, if the Dean wishes to change the sanction of a student who has formally accepted the  expedited process and sanction, the dean must first consult with the Executive Director and Faculty Chair. If the decision to change the sanction remains, the student may request a hearing in lieu of accepting the revised sanction.  

Sanctions: Recommending a Sanction 

There are two phases in the determination of a sanction by either a Hearing Board or Executive  Board (expedited process) after the Board has a clear understanding of what the case is about. This evaluation comes from consensus among board members about  

  • What Honor System standard(s) of conduct was violated, e.g., plagiarism, cheating, etc
  • How extensive and impactful was the violation in terms of the assignment in question. 
  • How deliberate the action was on the part of the student

Phase I: After discussion and having arriving at a consensus about the nature of the violation, and  what actions by the student led to the violation, the Board will determine an initial sanction based  on whether the violation warrants an outcome (sanction) that will become a permanent part of the  student’s record; 

  • A permanent sanction may result from deliberate, purposeful actions by the student which  resulted in a violation. 
  • A reducible sanction may be the Board’s recommendation for actions by the  student arising from misunderstanding, ignorance, or carelessness. 

Phase II:  The board will determine the validity of mitigating or exacerbating factors and whether  there should be further adjustment of the initial sanction. For example,

  • Should what was initially thought worthy of a permanent sanction move toward a  reducible sanction? 
  • Should the sanction decrease or increase in severity, whether permanent or reducible?  Even if  there are such factors, are they sufficient to cause an adjustment? 
  • For all violations of the Honor System Standards of Conduct, or for circumstances not  expressly addressed in these guidelines, a Board should apply the general principles conveyed  below. 

The Honor System makes provision for four permanent and two reducible sanctions as follows, as  well as one sanction that expires on graduation with the file removed. 

“Deliberateness” (and other considerations) 

As part of the determination of an appropriate level of  sanction to recommend,  the board needs to  assess the deliberateness of actions taken by the student in the course of committing a violation. The  question is “what deliberate actions constitute the violation of the Honor System?” and whether  those circumstances provide justification for a permanent sanction as the recommended outcome. 

Boards should also assess what potential advantage was to be gained by the student through this  action, as well as what harm or disadvantage this action potentially would cause to other students,  the faculty, and the University community overall.  A final phase in sanctioning is a consideration of  possible mitigating or exacerbating factors that might change an initial determination of sanction.   The board must use considerable judgment in determining whether due to mitigating or  exacerbating circumstances to raise or lower a sanction, and whether to make it permanent or  reducible.  

Furthermore, and fully acknowledging that defining “deliberateness” is not easy, the Board  nonetheless should be able, or try, to distinguish deliberateness from intention.  For the Honor  Council, a lack of intention is not considered in evaluating culpability, i.e., whether the student is In  Violation, or not.*  For the purposes of sanctioning, deliberateness is about a student’s actions,  whether planned or not.  Intent or intention tends to connote the state of mind when someone  commits an action.  [For further discussion of this distinction, see the section below which provides  examples.]  Deliberateness is about the purposefulness of external actions taken more than the  state of mind when taking those actions.  It is possible to discern external actions and not to  understand internal intent.    


● A student may set out to write a very good paper and not to plagiarize but who also may not  have realized how much sloppy actions or unconscious procrastination would lead to a bad outcome.  cf. the student whose intention when starting was to write a good paper, but time flew by and deliberate actions were taken to purchase a paper from a term paper mill, or to  reuse another student’s lab report from a previous semester.  

● Or consider the student who went to the restroom during a final exam and accessed  materials from the Canvas course site and whose actions were knowingly in violation of the  instructions for taking the exam.  Going to the restroom with the cell phone when the rule  was to turn off and put cell phones away was a deliberate action. Opening the Internet on  the phone to access Canvas was a further deliberate action.  The student’s goal may have been only to keep the phone nearby to await a message from a parent and not to use it otherwise, but  taking the phone to the restroom was a deliberate action and opening the phone to the  course materials was a further deliberate action.  Considering the instructor’s “no phones available during an exam” policy, all the student’s actions would be considered deliberate. 

* Honor System, Introduction to the Standards of Conduct: “Without regard to motive, student conduct  that is academically dishonest, evidences lack of academic integrity or trustworthiness, or unfairly  impinges upon the intellectual rights and privileges of others is prohibited.” would be important to understand what the student hoped to accomplish by using the  phone against policy. 

Determination of the strength of the sanction 

After a student has been found in violation, whether by a Hearing Board or the Executive Board, the  next step is to determine the sanction most appropriate for the violation committed, and without  regard either to mitigating or exasperating circumstances. 

Objectively, the three most significant factors in the determination of the seriousness of the  violation, and therefore level of sanction, are  

1. the extent or scope of the violation exhibited in the paper or exam (or other document or  action) reported;  

2. the purpose of the assignment in assessing the student’s work and the degree to which the  instructor’s learning objectives were not achieved due to academic dishonesty;

3. the specific actions the student engaged in to commit the violation, and whether these  actions were knowingly in violation of the instructions for completing the assignment or of  other typical norms of honest academic behavior. 

1. The Extent or Scope of  the Violation  

The extent of the violation will be considered according to the the type of assignment and the  specific nature of academic dishonesty.  Among the most common violations are the following: 

Plagiarism.   Examples of extent may be as follows: 

  • Large-scale: A major assignment for which a student inappropriately uses a high  percentage of unoriginal unattributed/uncited material, and which therefore  includes little of the student’s own thought and work. 
  • Moderate:  One of a few such equivalent assignments in which plagiarism is evident  because, e.g., there are few citations for quoted passages of text, no indication that  some passages are verbatim and should have quotation marks, misattribution of  sources, etc. 
  • Low-level:  One of numerous course assignments in which the student includes all  sources in a list of works cited or bibliography, and footnotes/references most  sources, but fails to put a few short strings of words in quotation marks or misses a citation or two.

Cheating on a test or exam, or homework assignment.  Examples of extent of the  violation include: 

  • Large-scale:  Exams and tests, in-class or take-home, or homework assignments,  critical for the course,  in which a student has impermissible advance knowledge of  the exam, creates extensive cheat sheets (paper or electronic), plans to copy a  particular student’s exam answers, or shares exams and answers during the course  of taking the exam. 
  • Moderate:  Exams, tests, or homework assignments, worth a low proportion of the  grade in which a student impermissibly and briefly consults online course materials  to try to find solutions and other information. 
  • Low-level:  an assignment not for credit or one of numerous small assignments. For example, working too closely with a classmate on a daily homework problem solution which crosses the line into what is impermissible according to course policies.  

Impermissible collaboration (not necessarily related to collaborative group projects).

  • Academic dishonesty as a violation when a student or students consult other students (including students from past semesters) or outside resources in violation of the instructor’s explicit instructions not to collaborate.  This unapproved consultation obviously does occur if a collaborative  group consults/uses another group’s work from a previous semester. 
  • The extent of the violation can be likened to the descriptions of plagiarism and  cheating detailed above, because the assignment often is a paper, or problem set.
  • Impermissible collaboration often is an additional distinct related violation for the  same report filed, e.g., a group project that uses another group’s website project  could be categorized as having impermissibly collaborated but also as having plagiarized. 

Allegations of academic dishonesty not related to assigned coursework.  

  • Major (and often egregious): Deliberate actions to falsify official and even legal  documents,  e.g., a student alters his/her official Georgetown transcript or other University record, or alters a transcript of courses taken elsewhere. Or a student forges letters of recommendation from Georgetown faculty/staff or to Georgetown for admission (even if discovered after matriculation). On the most egregious level, this behavior could also result in Code of Student Conduct or legal action against the student by the University or individuals employed by University.  
  • Moderate: A student forges a doctor’s note for any of a variety of reasons, e.g., an  absence which would have exceeded the number the instructor considers acceptable, or to get a extension to take an exam or submit a paper, and would have  an impact on the student’s grade. 
  • Low-level: Often there is no course assignment involved, e.g., a student disregards  “recall” notices and keeps forgetting to return library materials when he/she knows the materials are required reading on the course syllabus.  This would deprive other  students access to educational resources (see Honor System III.G).    

2. The Purpose of the Assignment or Official Document at Issue 

In determining a sanction, coupled with the extent of a violation is the purpose or importance of the  assignment to the assessment of coursework, or regarding a document that is part of the  University’s record-keeping.  Key to a correct determination of the strength of a sanction would be  answers to these issues and questions: 

● The purpose of the assignment and/or other culminating condition for completing the  assignment 

● The relative weight of the assignment in the final grade.  

○ How important to the grade or other mark of a student’s progress is the assignment  relative to an allegation of academic dishonesty?   Why is this assignment important?  How disadvantageous would it be not to turn in this specific assignment?  In summary, a primary mission of Honor Council (adjudication, outreach, etc.) and for the Dean of  the student’s school in assigning sanctions is the education of students, even if some lessons are  learned “the hard way.”

Course assignments are assumed to have learning objectives planned by  instructors and to be accomplished by students, and part of the overall assessment of the student’s  work.  The learning objectives cannot be achieved for that individual student, and may also affect  the grades of other students if, for example, the assignment was graded on a curve.  Depending on the extent of the violation within the assignment and the relative weight of the assignment in the grade, a recourse for the instructor will also be to grade accordingly. “Regardless of the sanction recommended by the Honor Council and imposed by the Dean, if a student is found in violation, the faculty member involved may fail or reduce the grade for the student, for the assignment, or for the  course, at his or her discretion.”