CS 573: Academic Integrity

This policy statement is unfortunately necessary, thanks to the actions of a tiny minority of students. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to ask in lecture, during office hours, on the course newsgroup, or by email.

Our expectations

Each student (or homework group) must write their own homework solutions, in their own words, and must properly credit all sources. We strongly encourage students to use any printed, online, or living resource at their disposal to help solve the homework problems, but you must cite your sources.
  • If you use an idea from a book, cite the book.
  • If you use an idea from a paper, cite the paper.
  • If you use an idea from the web, cite the web page.
  • If you use an idea from last semester's homework solutions, cite last semester's homework solutions.
  • If you use an idea from another student, cite that student.
  • If you use an idea from your mom, cite your mom.
This is the same ethical standard that researchers are expected to follow in their formal publications. For comparison, see the guidelines published by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the American Mathematical Society (AMS), the American Physical Society (APS), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). Citing your sources will not lower your homework grade.

Avoiding plagiarism is really very simple: Never present someone else's words or ideas as your own.

  • Repeating ideas from other people, papers, or web pages without giving proper credit is plagiarism.
  • Verbatim duplication of any source, even with proper citations, is plagiarism. In particular:
    • Copying from a solution manual for a textbook is plagiarism.
    • Copying a previous semester's official homework solution is plagiarism.
  • Turning in a copy of someone else's work as your own is plagiarism, even if you have their permission.
  • Allowing someone else to copy your work verbatim, or to use your ideas without giving you credit, is also a violation of academic integrity.
See Article 1, Part 4 of the UIUC student code (http://www.admin.uiuc.edu/policy/code/article_1/a1_1-402.html) for more examples and information. If you have any doubt about whether something constitutes plagiarism, talk to Chandra or the TAs, and err on the side of caution.

There are much more serious ways to violate the university's academic integrity policies, such as collaborating with or copying from another student during an exam, hiring an impostor to write homework solutions or take exams for you, changing the answers on a graded homework or exam before asking for a regrade, falsely claiming to have submitted a homework or taken an exam, and modifying or destroying other students' graded work. Hopefully you already know not to do anything that stupid!


Violations of academic integrity will not be tolerated.
  • The default penalty for cheating on the homework is a grade of zero on the entire homework, which will not be dropped when we compute your final homework average.
  • The default penalty for cheating on an exam is a grade of zero on the entire exam.
  • The penalty for a second offense of any kind, or a particularly egregious first offense, is an F in the course.
By department and university policy, all academic integrity cases are reported to the CS department, to the student's home college, and to the Senate Committee on Student Discipline. Multiple offenses, even in different classes, can result (and have resulted) in suspension or expulsion. These penalties are consistent with the CS department's recommendations.

Our high expectations for graduate students extend to issues of academic integrity. Any cheating offense by a graduate student will be reported to the student's advisor, and a notice will be entered into their file. For PhD students, this notice will be visible to the student's qual, prelim, and thesis committees, and to all faculty in the student's research area during the annual student evaluations. Several computer science faculty members have publicly stated that they would refuse to advise or serve on a committee for a MS or PhD student who has committed even a single cheating offense, no matter how minor or how far in the past. If you cheat, you are signing your own academic death warrant.

Except for Homework 0, groups of up to three people are allowed to submit a single solution for each homework. Every member of the group receives credit for the entire assignment. That means every member of the group is responsible for the entire assignment. If a submitted homework contains plagiarized material, every member of the group will be given the same penalty. Again, this is the same standard that is applied to coauthors of research papers. If you cheat, you are not only endangering your grade, and possibly your academic career, but your colleagues' as well.

Regardless of whether it constitutes plagiarism, or whether you get caught, getting too much help on your homework will hurt your final grade. If you don't learn how to solve algorithmic problems on your own, you will perform poorly on the (closed-book, closed-notes) exams, which make up 70% of your final course average. Several students with homework averages over 90% have failed the course.

Warning signs

Almost every instance of plagiarism I've ever seen has been motivated by a combination of desperation and an expectation that cheating is tolerated.
  • Desperation: The student feels overhelming pressure to improve their performance, despite gaps in their understanding. The student might be overwhelmed by work in other classes, or financial pressure to graduate, or parental/cultural expectations. They might be a new graduate student, used to being at the top of their class but now among intellectual equals, whose merely good performance is a blow to their aspirations or self-image. The student may be suffering from "Impostor Syndrome", believing that an admission that they can't do something will expose them as a fraud. The student might have trouble with English, and therefore worries that rewriting someone else's text would distort the meaning. Perhaps the student is dealing with depression, serious illness, divorce, or a death in the family. Or maybe the student simply sees no way to satisfy the instructor's unreasonable or unclear expectations without cheating.

    If you find yourself in this situation, ask for help! If you need help understanding the material, come to office hours, ask questions in class, ask questions on the newsgroup, talk to your fellow students. The instructional staff will even make extra apopintments to help guide you through the material or give you feedback on tentative solutions, but only if you ask. (But please remember that our goal is to help you master the material, not just to help you get a better grade.)

    If you think a homework problem is unclear, please ask for clarification. Your confusion might indicate a gap in your understanding of the course material, but it might also indicate that the question is poorly stated, unfairly hard, or even impossible. Our job is to help you learn the material; please let us know if we aren't doing our job.

    We do expect solutions to be written in clear, coherent English. If you are thinking of copying someone else's words because you are uncomfortable with English, you are probably better off taking a class to improve your English instead of this course.

    Asking for help does not make you "look stupid". Quite the opposite—it means you are smart enough to recognize your own limitations and work to overcome them. Asking for clarification is not an insult to the instructor or the TAs. Quite the opposite—questions are valuable feedback that we can use to teach more effectively. Everyone suffers from Impostor Syndrome occasionally, including your professors. Most importantly, your grade is not a statement about your intelligence, your potential for success, or your worth as a human being; it's only feedback about your mastery of the course material.

    If your situation is very serious, or not directly related to this class, you may prefer to discuss your situation with your department or college advisor, a family member, a trusted friend, or the counseling center, but please talk to someone.

  • Different expectations: The student is used to an academic culture where plagiarism is tolerated or even encouraged. Maybe they come from a high school with litigious parents who discourge teachers from punishing cheaters. Maybe they come from a country where students are expected to parrot back their instructors' exact words to demonstrate understanding. Maybe cheating was inconsistently or ineffectively enforced in their past classes; they've seen cheating students succeed (getting higher grades, or even better jobs) where honest students have suffered. Or maybe the student just wants to pull one over on the instructor.
    Our standards for academic integrity may be different than what you're used to, especially if you are an international student. The standards we apply in this class are a proper subset of the standards applied to U of I faculty and most other professional scientific researchers. (Fortunately, we don't have to worry about authorship and author ordering policies, accurate recording and reporting of experimental results, or ethical issues with human or animal test subjects.)

    Our job as instructors is to help you master the course material. We ask that you write everything yourself so that we can make an honest assessment of your facility with the course material, and therefore give you useful feedback. We allow wide latitude in choosing the resources you need to learn; we trust that you will use those resources responsibly. Plagiarizing other people's work to improve your grade is an abuse of that trust. It is unfair to us and to your fellow students.

    We are painfully aware of differences in cheating policies and their enforcement in different classes, both within and outside the UIUC Computer Science department. Within the guidelines of the Student Code, the university gives faculty broad discretion (under the rubric of academic freedom) in defining what constitutes "cheating" and how stringently cheating policies are enforced. Sometimes these differences lead students to believe that cheating policies are overly restrictive or inconsistent, and so can be justifiably ignored.

    We believe that our policies are fair, but even with the best of intentions, we sometimes make mistakes. If you believe that the policies in this class (or any other class!) are unclear, unfair, or inconsistently applied, we strongly encourage you to voice your complaints to the instructor, the TA, and/or the department administration. If you wish to complain anonymously, feel free to leave a note with my assistant Elaine Wilson, or under my office door.

  • Apathy: Very rarely, students will cheat simply because they want good grades (or a degree) at all costs, with no thought whatsoever for learning or fairness. We have absolutely no sympathy for these students. You may have the right to rob yourself of the educational opportunity you (or your parents, or your advisor, or your department, or your fellowship donor) have paid for, but don't expect us to help you.