This year I have decided to take a Computer Science course on FLVS, an online learning institution.

Throughout the whole year, I worked well, and I had a lot of fun with the course. I was close to finishing the second semester of it, and I randomly lost access to the course. I was surprised to find out that they took a some of my assignments (about 6~7), and they flagged me for academic integrity, claiming that I used the answers from an online answer source. Another problem is that because it's so many assignments, they have kicked me out of the course, without me even communicating with them the issue.

My teacher had no idea about this, and she can't do anything about it. She told me to talk to academic integrity themselves. I now have a 0 for the course, and I'm very angry, and I have no idea what to do. I can show them I didn't cheat by answering on the phone any questions they have, and I've already studied for the exam and I plan on taking it, and I'm very confident I can get a good grade. I've also used the knowledge I've learned from the course, and I've created iPhone applications as well as games and other software.

I've left the academic integrity team a message stating that I need to speak with them ASAP, but how can I communicate to them that I didn't plagiarize the work?

UPDATE: I have done some research as to how I present my case, and I found a couple things regarding appeals. FLVS claims that its so called "academic integrity" team is fair and not biased and they utilize a lot of technology to ensure that their claims are as factual as possible, such as www.turnitin.com. I have found a Customer Support number that I can voice my concerns to, so I'm going to present my case to them.

UPDATE #2: After speaking with customer support (see update above), the person on the other line wrote down my grievance in an email, and she sent it to the academic integrity people. I also received a copy of the email. She told me she's sorry for my problem and that I should expect a call in the next 48-72 business hours. Hopefully I will fix this.

UPDATE #3: We had a long talk with the academic integrity team yesterday, and apparently (I had no knowledge of this) they claim I have copied work from my twin brother Varun from about 20 assignments. Going through these assignments, there seems to be evidence of similar code, but that's because certain instance variables and functions had to be created as per the assignment's instructions, but the overall design of the program is different. They also say that we had the same typesetting (meaning me and him had the same spacing and tabs and white space), although we're both very experienced programmers, and we follow the conventional format of tabbing and spacing. I'm most likely going to court :D.

UPDATE #4: This is the best part. After talking we academic integrity before (see above update), we decided to check all of the assignments she flagged and come up with legitimate reasons as to why I didn't cheat on them. After coming up with a long list, we sent an email to the academic integrity people and told them that we came up with a lot of reasons as to why we didn't copy, so she said that she would call us in a couple of days. After 2 days, she sends another email stating that her reasons are legitimate, according to her "boss", and that she won't discuss the issue any further. I am now super angry about this, and I have legitimate reasons as to how I didn't cheat. She won't tell me anything, and my teachers haven't returned any of my calls. I really hate FLVS.

  • 14
    A general note: "How can you defend yourself against plagiarism charges?" is an on-topic question for this board, even though the question arises in the context of high school—precisely because it can apply to pretty much any level of academia.
    – aeismail
    Apr 18, 2014 at 16:58
  • 9
    It seems like the first step is to ask for their evidence that you plagiarized. habeas corpus and all that.
    – Suresh
    Apr 18, 2014 at 17:14
  • 12
    Do I understand right that they summarily expelled you from the course with no discussion or even notification? That seems bizarre, and it suggests that either they are irresponsible/incompetent or they must have very serious evidence against you (possibly both). As ff524 says in her answer, the first step is finding out what the evidence is. Apr 18, 2014 at 17:38
  • 11
    In your case, you dont need to prove anything to them. THEY NEED TO SHOW YOU WHERE YOU PLAGIARIZED. Otherwise, this may be considered offensive to your rights as student. Get ready for the battle (assuming you really didnt plagiarize)
    – seteropere
    Apr 18, 2014 at 19:21
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    @BrianS Good plagiarism detectors for CS projects would include things like whitespace detection and indentation. Even aside from those things, beginners tend to have the highest variation, since they're not entirely sure what they're doing, while the good programmers tend to converge towards a "best solution". (I was a TA for introductory highschool-level CS courses for 3 years; it was easy to tell who was the beginner and who was not. The assignments of those with prior experience tended to look similar just due to being good, while the beginners were all over the place)
    – Izkata
    Apr 18, 2014 at 21:23

5 Answers 5


There are a few steps you can take, but the specifics depend on the individual institution and its procedures:

  1. Find out what evidence is behind this accusation. Presumably when you talk to this "academic integrity team," they will tell you more specifically why they think you cheated. Once you have a chance to find out what their evidence for this accusation is, you will be in a position to show them how they made a mistake.
  2. Find out what the institution's official policy is for appealing accusations of academic integrity. This depends on the individual institution's policies. When you speak to the "academic integrity team," you can ask them directly what the appeal procedure is.
  3. Find out what the general grievance procedure is. If you don't have a good experience with the "academic integrity team" (e.g. they did not give you a fair chance to appeal the accusation), you should find out what procedures your institution has in place for voicing grievances in general, and you can pursue these if necessary.
  • 2
    The important thing here is that generally speaking an academic institution can't act as judge, jury and executioner. They do have to have policies in place. And you don't have to defend yourself BEFORE you hear the evidence against you.
    – Suresh
    Apr 18, 2014 at 17:41
  • FLVS's academic integrity claims are non-negotiable. Apr 18, 2014 at 18:55
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    @VishwaIyer I googled FLVS grievance procedure and found these guidelines (page 7). Go ahead and follow this procedure if you can't get anywhere with the academic integrity office.
    – ff524
    Apr 18, 2014 at 18:56
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    @VishwaIyer They're saying that "academic integrity" is non-negotiable, not that accusations of such are non-negotiable.
    – ff524
    Apr 18, 2014 at 18:57
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    Ditto on point 1. You can't prove you're innocent of plagiarism in general. You have to know the details of the accusation and refute them point by point. It would be like saying, "the police arrested me but won't tell me what the charge is. How can I prove I'm innocent?" Where would you start?
    – Jay
    Aug 7, 2015 at 15:39

People seem confused between criminal law and rules and regulations of an institution.The universities can do whatever the hell they want because they make their own rules, and the law allows them to do that. So learn the rules:

  1. You need to get the assessment regulations and all the related policies you find and then read them

  2. See if your uni has an advice place and see what they have to tell you.

  3. If the Country of your Uni have any Freedom of Information laws. Request everything related to this problem formally and in writing that is, meeting minutes, emails related regulations and rules etc. Your brother may wish to do the same.

  4. Learn the appeals process and be prepared to use it.

  5. You may wish to counter with something offensive like a complaint - Get a copy of the complaint policy from your uni...

  6. Find out what happens when the internal process is exhausted - that is, when you either hand over your case to an advocate or go to court if your issue still has not been resolved and the two parties (you and the uni) still disagree.

I don't think they have a leg to stand on if it's white space or coding style, but if I were you I would get a git diff of the related assignments of yours and your brother's to see for yourself what you are up against. Moreover, if the git diff does support your story by suggesting the content of the assignments are different in every regard but style as suggested, then that is evidence right there.

Aside: the uni should not really be reusing assignments used in previous years for assessed work, so many people cheat when that happens by getting the answers off someone else who has already taken that class.

  • FOI requests could get fairly expensive. I know my uni (as is allowed by local law) changes for the work required to gather the information and censure any private information (iirc $30 per hour, minimun 1 hour). Cheaper than going to court though. Aug 10, 2015 at 8:01
  • (-1) It is not true that the universities can do whatever they want. Most universities are public institutions and are subject to administrative law. Even private universities are subject to rules pertaining to funding, accreditation, etc. There are a slew of court cases setting out due process requirements that universities must follow when they are engaged in internal disciplinary matters, and many universities have been successfully sued for failing to meet these requirements.
    – Ben
    Nov 21, 2021 at 17:40

One main aspect of the law is "innocent until proven otherwise". That said it is them who need to proof that you plagiarized. First thing I would do would be to speak to them, explain that you strongly disagree with their decision, and that you want to see their proof to analyze it.

Once you have that proof try to figure out how good it is. If it only contains partial similarities, point out to them that given the amount of articles on the Internet, it is actually very likely that parts of your work look similar to the work of someone else, even though you never read it. That would not be a proof that you copied something, only a hint at best.

If large passages of your text are similar or identical to what someone else wrote, you have a problem. At this point you can only hope that they believe you or you have to take a lawyer and hope for the best.

  • 18
    This is nitpicky, but "innocent until proven otherwise" does not apply here. While there is a strong cultural bias towards that sort of fairness, we're talking about the policy and process of an educational organization, not civil or criminal statues. That organization can choose to be as fair or unfair as they want.
    – David L
    May 21, 2014 at 20:21
  • 2
    The laws apply for everyone, and no organization can ignore or bent the very foundation of that law. They can however choose to ignore it, this will however give one the right to sue them. Now the big question is: to what grade of success? And when? They know that any lawsuit will take several years, and then it is far too late for the student. So they do act against the law, but with little to no risk for them.
    – TwoThe
    May 22, 2014 at 11:07
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    @TwoThe: what is "the law", and where does it say that private organizations have to consider people innocent before proven guilty for their decisions? as far as I know, in the the US, it is only a policy established by precedent (Coffin v. US) that applies to actual state/legal/civil crimes.
    – Justin L.
    May 23, 2014 at 2:01
  • 1
    While I certainly agree that "presumed innocent until proven guilty" is a good principle, that is a principle of law, and we are not talking about law here, but about academic policies. The U.S. Constitution says that you have to apply this principle in criminal cases, not in every business and social interaction. An employer doesn't have to prove you're not qualified: they can demand that you prove you are qualified. I can't force a girl to go on a date with me despite the fact that she thinks I'm boring on the principle that she has to prove that I'm boring before she can turn me down. Etc.
    – Jay
    Aug 7, 2015 at 15:37

I had to deal with a misconduct case involving twins once. I did not consider it odd that twins should have the same handwriting and approach things similarly. Even though they deserved the benefit of the doubt, the instructor was ready to die on this hill and had their HoD's backing (this was a cross-departmental case, spare you the messy intricacies). I advised the twins to just stomach the very possibly unfair accusation and made sure that the other department involved would know to treat this condemnation as the nonsense it was. It was a bad compromise and I regret not having been firmer. Twins, work harder to avoid any semblance of wrong-doing! Do not always have to team up with your twin sub on every assignment! It is not fair but our world is twin-ignorant!


Before worrying about evidence, focus first on due process

The primary issue here ---before you get to any evidentiary matters--- is basic due process. Universities should have misconduct procedures that provide due process to the person accused of wrong-doing, and that should generally entail that you are informed of what you are accused of doing and given an opportunity to respond prior to any findings of fact and resulting punishment.

Legal requirements for due process differ depending on what country/jurisdiction you are in and the legal status of the university (i.e., is it public, private, etc.). Nevertheless, most jurisdictions impose some kind of legal requirement for due process on universities in regard to their internal disciplinary procedures. (Other answers here suggesting that universities can do whatever they want are false.) In particular, public universities are subject to administrative law rules in regard to their internal decision-making, including rules on due process. To give an example of this legal position, in US public universities a person who is subject to a university disciplinary procedure is generally entitled to notice of the allegations against them and a description of the evidence for those allegations (see e.g., Dixon v. Alabama State Board of Education 294 F.2d 150 and later legal cases elaborating on that).

Now, as to what to do, here is some general advice for dealing with a complaint of cheating/misconduct. The main thing to note in the present case is that you are getting ahead of yourself by worrying about evidentiary matters prior to knowing exactly what the allegations are. The first thing you need to do is to put your university on notice that you expect due process in this matter, and that you would like them to inform you (in writing) of the allegations against you and the nature of the evidence for those allegations. As others have pointed out, "proving your innocence" is nowhere near the first step of this process.

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