Why Universities and Colleges Need Clear Policies to Deal with Fake COVID-19 Vaccination Records and Test Results

August 17, 2021
Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With the new academic year just around the corner, universities and colleges are grappling with a return to campus. Some institutions are calling for mandatory vaccine requirements, and the list continues to grow. In Canada, for example, journalists are sharing news of this rapidly changing landscape on a daily basis. Here are just a few examples of news stories from major news outlets:

Just this morning, the President of the University of Calgary sent a campus-wide e-mail stating:

“Starting September 1, the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge will require all those coming to campus to undergo regular rapid testing. Those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are exempt from this requirement.

Students, faculty, and staff who are not fully vaccinated, and those who would prefer not to disclose their vaccine status, will need to regularly complete a rapid screening test and receive a negative result before they participate in in-person activities.

Any individual who cannot be tested or vaccinated based on medical or other protected grounds recognized by the Alberta Human Rights Act can request an accommodation.”

The e-mail was signed by all three Alberta university presidents:

  • Bill Flanagan, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Alberta
  • Ed McCauley, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Calgary
  • Mike Mahon, President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Lethbridge

I applaud this decision – wholeheartedly and unequivocally.

What was absent from this communication, and most of the communication I have seen about vaccine requirements on campuses, is what the consequences will be for falsifying vaccine documents. On August 9, the Associated Press published an article on how “Fake COVID-19 vaccination cards worry college officials” in the United States.

It is utterly naïve to think that fake COVID-19 test results or vaccination records are limited to the United States or other countries. These are already available for sale for Canadians. I will not include links to these services in this blog post because I do not want to give the impression that I am endorsing any of these services, but you can do a simple Internet search yourself to find out how easy it is to buy these in Canada.

One Canadian news report claimed that fake COVID-19 vaccine passports were available for purchase online for as little as $12. That’s about the same cost as a box of donuts and a couple of coffees from a popular Canadian donut chain restaurant.

A critical question that remains unanswered is: What are the consequences for presenting fake or fraudulent COVID-19 documents on our campuses?

For staff and professors, I expect that human resources departments will be involved. For students, I expect that presenting fake COVID-19 would be a violation of student conduct rules (e.g., academic or non-academic misconduct). What is unclear is how such cases will be dealt with.

Falsifying COVID-10 vaccination status or test results is a willful act of dishonesty and needs to be treated as such.

I contend that such consequences need to be articulated through institution-wide policies and procedures and must be consistent across the institution. For example, it would be ridiculous for a student in arts to receive a warning and a student in science to receive an expulsion for the same offence of presenting a fake COVID-19 vaccination record. Similarly, it would diminish public trust in the institution if contract-based staff were dismissed from their employment for presenting faked COVID-19 documents, but tenured faculty members or administrators received a warning.

Universities and colleges need to take a strong and public stance on the issue of fake COVID-19 documentation.

This is no time to hide behind political-speak such as, “Violations will be addressed on a case-by-case basis” or “We do not expect this to be a problem”. This is a time for universities and colleges to communicate clear and firm expectations that presenting accurate and honest information regarding COVID-19 vaccination status or test results is essential for upholding the academic integrity and ethical standards. In addition, institutions need to develop and communicate clear and firm consequences for presenting fake or falsified COVID-19 documents.

Further, it would be useful for institutions to track and report on misconduct that occurs related to COVID-19, for all campus stakeholders including students, staff, faculty, and administrators and report back to the community on how cases are addressed. This is a not only a matter of public interest, it is a matter of public health. Lives are literally at stake.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.


Why Superboards Could Signal the Dismemberment of Alberta’s Higher Education System

January 23, 2021

A recent CBC News article by Janet French highlights the Alberta government’s plan to establish superboards to oversee higher education in the province. It is imperative for Albertans to understand the possible implication that superboards might have on our post-secondary system.

French’s article worth a read. And pay attention to every word.

Similar to California?

Someone asked me recently whether there were other examples of this type of superboard governance that we could refer to get a concrete idea of what it might mean for Alberta. My response at the time was that to the best of my knowledge there were no such similar systems in the Commonwealth.

Canadian higher education shares much in common with its Commonwealth cousins, as it is based largely on the British system of education. It is a long history lesson, but suffice to say that the American higher education system differs from ours in some fundamental ways. Although the Canadian and American systems started out in a similar vein, the American Revolution caused some fundamental shifts that led to a bifurcation of the educational trajectories of both countries. The resulting Constitution of the United States, enacted after the revolution, provides for a far more open and entrepreneurial approach to education.

This is one reason that there are literally thousands of private universities and colleges in the United States that operate with much less oversight or quality assurance than Canadian universities and colleges. Overall, the quality of higher education across Canada is generally more consistent and steady and we do not have the drastic differences in institutional reputation that affect our neighbours to the south. This is also due, in part, to differences in how higher education is governed in both countries. Although Canadian and American universities share much in common in some ways, in other ways, they differ dramatically. One of those ways is governance.

MRU political science professor and political commentator, Duane Bratt sparked a lively conversation about this topic on his Twitter feed. One of the comments that came up is that a unified university system seems to work for the University of California (UC), so maybe it could work here. The UC system includes ten universities such as UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, etc. (As an aside, the University of Calgary’s own president, Ed McCauley, worked at UC Santa Barbara before returning to the University of Calgary in 2011, so he is no doubt well versed on the UC system.)

A system similar to the UC system could be one possible outcome if one or more superboards for post-secondary education in Alberta were to be implemented. However, I would point out that although the University of California has an excellent reputation in many respects, it exists as one institution within a larger state context.

The state of California has some of the most flexible (lax?) laws around the operation of educational entities. Retired FBI Agent, Allen Ezell and his colleague John Bear, write extensively about this in their book, Degree Mills. To paraphrase some of their key ideas, just about anyone can open a business in the state of California and call it a school. This has led to a proliferation of private entities offering so-called educational programs of questionable quality, or in some cases, outright fraudulent credentials. Although the University of California may be a reputable school, it is situated in a state where, without exaggeration, literally hundreds of other alleged universities and colleges dole out parchments with little to no credibility behind them. In my opinion, the larger higher education system that exists in the state of California is not one to which Alberta ought to aspire.

Lack of clarity regarding a possible superboard

In his remarks to the General Faculties Council (GFC) on December 10, 2020 President McCauley commented that the University of Calgary has been advocating for “the continuance of bicameral University governance and autonomy” (p. 2). The minutes of the GFC meeting are a matter of public record and can be found here.

These remarks at GFC, as well as commentary made by our executive leaders since then should not be taken lightly. They signal that our university president, along with other university presidents in Alberta, are concerned about the possibility of the dismantling of the bi-cameral governance model that currently exists at our institutions (i.e., at the University of Calgary, this means the Board of Governors and General Faculties Council) if a superboard to oversee universities is established. This website provides a brief overview of the University of Calgary’s governance and leadership.

It is not clear at the moment how an Alberta superboard for post-secondary governance might be structured or what powers they might have. It is also not clear if there would be one board for universities and another for colleges or if each system would be overseen by its own superboard. Right now there are more questions than answers. What is clear is that the possibility of establishment of one or more superboards to oversee higher education in Alberta poses the greatest potential for change to post-secondary governance that the province has seen in more than half a century – or perhaps ever.

A governance perspective: The potential dismemberment of Alberta’s higher education system

At this point, no one knows for certain what the superboards for higher education might mean. At the risk of sounding alarmist, if superboards are established, the possibility of the bicameral governance structure being dismantled is a real possibility. In turn, this could lead to a radical restructuring of Alberta’s post-secondary institutions.

I believe this is something we must pay close attention to. Funding cuts are one thing. The possibility of the dismemberment of our university governance structure is something else entirely. I use the word “dismemberment” here intentionally – and quite literally. To dismember is to sever the limbs from the body. The Board of Governors and the General Faculties Council are our university’s governing bodies. If the university does not have its own governing bodies, it would very likely lose its autonomy and its ability to function in the way it has for decades. This could be the case of every post-secondary institution in Alberta. Without bi-cameral governance, every single one of Alberta’s universities could be crippled in terms of their ability to make decisions for themselves.

When people hear that I study ethics and integrity in higher education, they often think that I study matters related to student conduct. Although that is true, it is not the entire story. The word “integrity” comes from the Latin, integritas, meaning to integrate or to make whole. A breach of integrity means that something that was previously whole has been compromised. In my opinion, the establishment of a superboard to govern higher education in our province could represent a direct threat to the integrity of our university system.

These superboards have not yet been formed, but now is very much the time for advocates of higher education to pay attention and become educated. At the very least I recommend spending some time on the Alberta 2030 Initiative website to find out more about some of what is planned for post-secondary education in Alberta.

I encourage you to learn as much as you can about how and why bi-cameral governance is a hallmark of Canadian higher education and how the autonomy it provides to individual institutions promotes ethical governance and decision-making in a variety of ways. Governance work is not values-free and nor is it agnostic. As Jenny Ozga so eloquently points out in her book, governance and policy work can be a form of advocacy. The very values that the University of Calgary – and other post-secondary institutions in Alberta – hold are lived out not only in the decisions that we make, but through the structures and systems in place that allow us to make those decisions in the first place.

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.


What’s the difference between a citation and a reference?

October 18, 2013

Sarah Eaton blog technology researchThere are certain things no one tells you (usually) when you are a university student. You are just expected to know them. When you learn them, suddenly it is as if you are part of an inner circle of respected peers who accept you… but you are not really sure how you got there. The devil is in the details. What sets rookies apart from experts is deep knowledge of details and sublties that others overlook or gloss over. Knowing the difference between a citation and a reference is one of those subtle details that moves you from the category of “novice researcher” to “respected researcher”.

It’s one of those things that you don’t really need to know — until you really want to be taken seriously among a group of experts. It’s akin to car buffs who know the difference between a supercharger and a turbocharger. Unless you are a “gear head” you don’t need to know. But if you want to be taken seriously in that social circle, you might be shunned if you didn’t know.

Regardless of your field, one key element that sets the experts apart from everyone else is their understanding of details in various elements of our work.

For students and scholars, once of these subtleties is knowing the difference between a citation and a reference:

Citation

A specific source that you mention in the body of your paper. The format of the citation may change depending on the style you use (e.g. MLA and APA) and the way that you weave the citation into your writing, but the basic elements of the citation that you need to include are:

  •  Name of the author(s)
  • Year of publication
  • Page number or page range

If you quote a source directly you must include the exact page number in your citation or it is incomplete.

Sarah Elaine Eaton, speaker, presenter, keynote, technology, social media, Calgary, Canada, educator, education, professional development

References

This is a list of the the sources you have cited. The references come at the end of your paper. In APA style, this is not a list of “works consulted”. Every source that is listed in your references also needs to be cited in the body of your paper.

Every source listed in your references should be accessible by others who read your work. Think of it as a trail of breadcrumbs that you leave for readers to show them where they can go to find the original source material for themselves.

In APA style, not all work that is cited necessarily goes into the references. For example, personal communications get cited in the body of your paper, to show the reader that you have a source for your information. But if the reader can not track that source as a primary document (because, for example, the information is contained within a private e-mail between you and someone else), then it does not go into the reference list.

Alert! It is not very common that sources are cited but not referenced. Use sources such as personal communications sparingly, if at all. The more credible sources you have in your references, the better quality your work will be perceived as having.

In general, there should be an exact match between the sources you cite in the body of your paper and those that appear in your references.

The actual books, articles and other materials you consult are called your sources of information. You need to know how to cite and reference all your sources correctly.

Now you know one of the subtle differences of of terms used in scholarship that sets apart the experts from the rookies. When you use the terms correctly, those who know will quietly nod their head and accept you a member of the scholarly community.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.



3 Handy Checklists for APA Style and Formatting

November 27, 2012

As my students are getting ready to hand in their final research papers, they are struggling to learn APA (American Psychological Association) standards for formatting, citations and references. Here are three handy checklists I have shared with them. They find them very helpful:

APA Style Checklist – http://www2.indwes.edu/ocls/apa/apastylechecklist.pdf

Checklist for APA Style (from Elmhurst) – http://library.elmhurst.edu/files/2010/02/ChecklistAPA.pdf

APA Format Checklist (from SLU) – http://www.slu.edu/Documents/student_development/student_success_center/APA_Format_Checklist_Handout.pdf

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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