Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Lea A. Hubbard, PhD; Cheryl A. Getz, EdD; Patrick Drinan, PhD; Adrianna Kezar, PhD


academic dishonesty, critical examination, higher education, organizational problem, Systemic Interactionism


Academic dishonesty, traditionally framed as a problem of student agency, plagues higher education institutions. In order to facilitate leadership toward the resolution of the problem, this study reconsiders academic dishonesty as a symptom of the complex interplay among agency, structure, and culture. The theoretical framework utilized, which I call Systemic Interactionism, builds on existing sociological, leadership, and organizational theories to provide a more robust explanation of academic dishonesty and other complex organizational problems. This reconsideration of academic dishonesty occurs in the context of three American higher education institutions. I employed a variety of field methods (interviews, observations, and document analysis) in each of the four-year non-profit institutions to critically interpret the dominant way in which the problem is framed and the solutions constructed. This study identifies Integrous Individualism as the dominant framing and suggests the ways in which this framing inhibits leadership toward organizational change. Specifically I argue that in its over-simplification, the framing silences dissonant voices, trivializes the issue, leaves incongruencies unaddressed, and constrains change agency. The application of Systemic Interactionism to better understand the problem of academic dishonesty uncovers conflicting notions and competing interests co-existing within the academy to create tensions, complexity, and ambiguity. I argue that it is within this complex core that the problem is constructed and agency is mediated, and so it is this complex core that requires attention for the eventual resolution of academic dishonesty. In the end, I suggest that institutions of higher education must approach the problem of academic dishonesty not only as an issue of individual integrity but as an issue of institutional integrity. The main contributions of this research are two-fold. First, this research suggests that academic dishonesty is fundamentally a problem of unauthorized academic conduct, a tension in teaching and learning expectations caused by structural, cultural, and agentive forces. Second, the more robust framing offered in this research facilitates a complex understanding of the problem as reflexively connected to other challenges facing the institution of higher education. Ultimately, this research argues that colleges and universities must substantially alter the way in which they frame and respond to the problem.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies