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The Philosophy of cheating - The Red and Black : News

The Philosophy of cheating

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Posted: Friday, October 19, 2007 12:00 am

It's finals time. You're sporting a 68 average in organic chemistry and your GPA is teetering on the magical 3.0 edge, keeping you debt free and in the good graces of your parents. Your buddy already took the test.

You call and ask him to spit out all the questions he can remember.

It's not like you haven't studied. It's not really cheating.

Right?

"That's just being resourceful," junior T.J. Maurer said. "It's not like photo copying the test or bringing in a cheat sheet."

The University does not agree.

Under the academic honesty policy, such help is unauthorized assistance.

It is cheating.

But if you ask Rutgers management professor Don McCabe, who studied cheating on college campuses, many students would disagree.

"Many practices that used to be labeled cheating are now considered by some to be competitive advantage," he noted.

He says two-thirds of students admit to cheating at some point during college.

The problem is far fewer students think they are doing anything wrong.

* * *

TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE

Do you know what the University considers

academic dishonesty? Take our quiz and find out if you are breaking the rules.

1. Is "cooking" data on a lab report cheating?

a) Absolutely not. How would scientists prove anything?

b) Nope. The end result is the only thing that matters.

c) You call that "cooking?" I call that clever.

d) You bet. Fabricating is serious business.

2. What about a false excuse for missing an exam?

a) Nah. My real excuse sucked.

b) Everyone's entitled to three grandmothers.

c) Only when the excuse comes in advance.

d) In advance or after the fact, guilty as charged.

3. What about storing formulas on a calculator?

a) What? How? Tell me, tell me, tell me.

b) No. How else would I pass my physics class?

c) Under no circumstances is that allowed.

d) With your professor's permission, store away.

4. Turning in the same paper twice for two different classes is fine.

a) True

b) False

5. Sabotaging a computer to avoid a graded assignment is cheating.

a) True

b) False

6. Turning in a paper you bought online might be lazy, but it's not plagiarism.

a) True

b) False

- Quiz compiled by Matthew Grayson

Answers: 1) d, 2) d, 3) d, 4) b, 5) a, 6) b

Cheating is notorious in corporate and political worlds, McCabe said, but it was in another results-driven arena - college campuses - where he decided to focus his efforts.

"You can see clear similarities between the academic world and the business world," he said. "Today, it's hard to tell the difference."

He surveyed 17,000 undergraduate students during the fall 2006 through spring 2007 academic year in hopes of getting a more accurate representation of student cheating. McCabe asked students to define if certain practices should be considered cheating and whether they have engaged in such behavior.

What he found was not so one-sided:

95 percent of those surveyed said copying another student's test was cheating.

One in three students labeled collaborating with another person on individual work was cheating, and 43 percent admitted to such action.

62 percent said cutting and pasting from the Internet was cheating, but one-third said they used the technique for academic work.

Less than 20 percent said they lied when asking for an extension and 60 percent said it was cheating.

The varying results aren't ignorance, McCabe said, they're a result of "moral rationality."

"The main problem is that students often develop this rationality that it's not a big deal because so many other people cheat and get away with it," he said.

He also said students distinguished between various levels of cheating.

Although two-thirds admit to conduct prohibited by most student honor codes, only 22 percent labeled themselves as serious cheaters.

What's a serious offense? Copying a test, purchasing a paper online and turning in work done by someone else all earned a designation of serious cheating by more than 90 percent of those surveyed.

Maurer made a similar distinction.

"I don't really get upset when I see people cheating on daily class work," he said. "There is so much work that I can understand why students resort to it, but cheating on a test - that would bother me."

But there is no rationality clause in the honor code.

It defines academic honesty as "performing all academic work without plagiarism, cheating, lying, tampering, stealing, giving or receiving unauthorized assistance from any other person or using any source of information that is not common knowledge without properly acknowledging the source," Maurer said.

Deborah Bell, coordinator for academic honesty, said most student violators had time management issues rather than morally dubious intentions.

"Students often feel backed into a corner and panic," she said.

And the panic is more prevalent. Reports of possible academic honesty violations have more than doubled since 2000. There were about 175 possible violations reported in the academic year of 2000-2001, and according to the Office of the Vice President for Instruction, that number spiked to about 425 during the last academic year.

But according to McCabe, with more than 30,000 students at the University, that total is low.

"There is now a heavier focus on catching cheaters," McCabe said. "But odds are you won't get caught."

Process a 'hassle'

McCabe said the most consistent deterrent for student cheating is not the fear of public embarrassment but rather punishment.

As a result, he endorsed an honor code as the most effective solution to combat cheating.

When an instructor suspects an incident of academic dishonesty he or she contacts the Office of the Vice President for Instruction, and from there the instructor and student have a facilitated discussion.

Bell said most cases are settled at this stage, with an appropriate punishment negotiated between the two. If no agreement can be reached, an academic honesty panel convenes to determine if a violation has occurred.

A punishment for first offense is the lowest possible grade on the assignment and one more sanction, such as a final course failing grade, a dishonesty transcript notation, suspension, dismissal or expulsion.

On a second offense, violators receive the dishonesty transcript notation and will be suspended, dismissed or expelled.

Only 6 percent of all cases make it to a panel, Bell said.

She also touted the rising number of cases as evidence more teachers are reporting cheating.

However, Archie Carroll, a University management professor who teaches business ethics, said there hasn't been a case in his department in the last few years. And it's not because he feels the classes are cheat-proof.

"Most professors lost faith in the system," he said of reporting students to academic honesty. "I believe most professors find a way around bringing charges against students."

He added many instructors say the process is a "hassle" since students "frequently don't face punishment."

In the past, Carroll said he met independently with the student and might have had them redo the assignment or weigh the grade between the old and new versions of the work.

"I know according to the system we're not supposed to do that," he said. "But that's my tendency if there are no blatant charges."

Last spring, 172 students were reported for academic honesty violations, according to the Office of the Vice President for Instruction.

Of such, 66 percent admitted violation and the remaining 34 percent were either withdrawn, dismissed or did not reach an agreement in the facilitated discussion between the instructor and student.

When asked if she felt teachers were reporting academic dishonesty, Bell said she "would like to say yes," but she "couldn't imagine a better model."

A Lost Cause?

Philosophy professor Edward Halper does not condone cheating but said the attitude in many classrooms fosters an environment where it can thrive.

"Too often, classes are just hoops that students jump through to get to the next big thing," he said. "We've got to get students really excited about the intrinsic value of an education."

He said it comes down to rational choice, explaining students cheat if they feel they will not be damaged.

"If the grade is all that matters and you cheat and don't get caught, it's an easy decision," he said.

Halper said teachers who try to spark a learning environment of critical thinking rather than recitation often lose students because they are so concerned about grades.

"Not exactly what I imagined when I entered the teaching field," he said.

As for Maurer, he smiled and shook his head when asked if educational value will ever outshine grades.

"First and foremost will always be grades," he said. "That will never change."

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