Many colleges and universities have policies outlining standards and expectations of academic integrity. These statements often address intellectual property, plagiarism, and even digital media.


Yet, it’s foolish to think that students need only to worry about maintaining their academic integrity to be successful. Too many times we’ve witnessed a disconnection between one’s personal and professionally integrity. In some cases, having academic integrity does not carry over into business decisions or transactions. From Enron to Bernard Madoff, we are often shocked to learn that despite having attended top schools, individuals can still make less than honorable decisions.


As well, many of us work to uphold a balance between the transparency that social media affords us with the privacy that we are accustomed to. With so much information readily accessible to anyone, there are new tools designed to help us scrutinize others’ behaviors and evaluate the values products and services in the marketplace. Because, as Don Tapscott, author and consultant summarized it in a recent blog for the Huffington Post:

To collaborate effectively, companies and their business partners have no choice but to share intimate knowledge. Powerful institutional investors today own or manage most wealth, and they are developing x-ray vision. Finally, in a world of instant communications, whistleblowers, inquisitive media, and Googling, citizens and communities routinely put firms under the microscope.


Although being active of the social web pretty much guarantees that you will subject scrutiny sooner or later, Tapscott thinks that business integrity is on the rise as a result.


Could it be that the transparency of the social web is making us more responsible for our actions, on and offline?


The Integrity Initiative

One of the ways to promote the merits of integrity in a digital world includes a project called the Integrity Initiative, developed by the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.


NSCS is an honor society that invites high-achieving freshmen and sophomores, ranking in the top 20 percent of their class, to join. By taking a holistic approach to promoting integrity among college students, its Integrity Initiative aims to promote honesty in all personal, professional and academic endeavors. By awarding annual scholarships to members who have demonstrated commitment to integrity, and honoring faculty members with awards that recognize those who instill integrity in their students, NSCS is helping to make it so that the good guys finish first.

But NSCS is not just about rewarding good behavior; they also work to cultivate behaviors and mentor future leaders. Because they invite first and second year students to join, NSCS has the luxury to teach, train and instill leadership skills that can be honed throughout their college years. Unlike other honor societies, which may disappear from one’s purview after graduation, NSCS provides ample opportunities for members and non-members alike in which they can participate, engage and help organize.


Achieve the Honorable, Not Strive for Mediocrity

While it might seem odd to actively reward students for doing what they ought to be doing — achieving the honorable, current events and research suggests that cheating in education has become increasingly pervasive at all levels. And it’s not just students, news reports feature faculty members who have also lied about their credentials and fabricated stories about their past, all in an effort to get ahead. Needless to say, navigating through life’s decisions with honor and integrity isn’t as easy as it seems.


Some blame students’ seemingly infinite access to information online, which makes it easy to fabricate documents and steal others’ identities to enhance their own. And while the Internet does give users access to lots of information, the decision to cheat, deceive and otherwise lie comes from somewhere else.

Ethicists and scientists believe that moral development — logic, morality and the ability to make ethical decisions, develops through constructive stages. By the time most students reach college, the basis for their moral reasoning has been pretty well established.


While working primarily with college students, perhaps high school students should also be targeted, in an effort to help promote principles of integrity and a basic understanding that adhering to a holistic integrity initiative can lead to successful personal, professional and academic pursuits.


Yet, in order for high school students to learn how to make good decisions, in and outside of the classroom, schools must not be afraid to address and embrace the impact that the Internet and web technologies, among others can have on a student’s life.


By recognizing the benefits of social networking and online media, and not just the risks, students can understand how the decision to post a specific photo or comment can impact their future. Instead of condemning the use of social media, schools should teach students about privacy controls and the how actions may influence decisions made by colleges and employers.


Best yet, we all must address and implement integrity initiatives that exist outside the hallowed halls of academia. Businesses, organizations, communities and other social groups should vow to uphold principles of honesty and integrity, online, offline, in real life and beyond.


Integrity Initiatives, like those developed by NSCS not only reward hard-working individuals, they uphold standards of excellence that can only be achieved by being honest and transparent.

Marisa Peacock

Marisa Peacock

Principal/Chief Strategist at The Strategic Peacock

Marisa Peacock is the principal and chief strategist for The Strategic Peacock. As a social media strategist and marketing consultant, Marisa helps organizations create and implement online strategies that appropriately target the right audience with the right information using the right media. Additionally, Marisa is an adjunct faculty member at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) where she teaches Social Media Marketing as a part of the Masters in Business of Art and Design program. She resides in Arlington, VA.