Academic integrity is important. Obviously. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who would argue otherwise. Unfortunately, our collective loss of academic integrity is ever-growing and more commonplace than you might expect. Let me explain. Whether it is intentional or not, a lack of academic integrity is overlooked by your peers, teaching assistants, and even professors everyday. I’m not talking about forgetting to reference something in your report or essay. This, albeit careless and erroneous, is not an act of moral negligence in my opinion. The academic integrity I’m concerned with is the overall loss of interest in learning and knowledge in general that evidently compels students to commit mild (or not so mild) forms of academic dishonesty.
The truth is that the majority of students don’t want to be in school. Whatever external force is driving them to seek out an undergraduate education, it isn’t enough to make students WANT to learn. Most students have become so focused on the end result – the mark, the degree, the job – that they seem to have lost the desire to learn something they are interested in, independent of what they might gain from it.
Unfortunately, this sentiment likely sounds familiar to most of us. This attitude is, sadly, mirrored at the level of top scientific researchers, where the intense competition between coworkers over publication number and the impact factor of those publications breeds animosity and in some cases, even leads to questionable research practices. It is entirely about receiving sufficient funding, which only comes with publications, which only come with doing science that ‘works’. Do you see what I’m getting at here? The same problems that plague our whiny, mark-grubbing undergraduate students are also affecting the very professors that complain about them.
The sad truth is that with the dwindling job opportunities for researchers finding themselves in areas of “unpopular” science, it’s no wonder that students, even at the undergraduate level, are focusing their energy on getting a leg up on everyone around them. What good is it to learn about something interesting that ultimately will not be profitable when you are putting yourself in debt to do it? For most of us, this isn’t a financially sound option; how can we blame anyone who is ultimately going to need a career from which they can support themselves? Unfortunately, there is no obvious remedy. There will likely never be a turn of events where professors, and ultimately students, can be free to explore science and seek knowledge about something that they actually care about, barring a massive influx of funding for fundamental research of course. The real shame is that the best, most innovative ideas often come from people who are just exploring a field of research that they love, and without allowing the next generation of students to do that, I honestly don’t know where we’ll be left in 50 years.