Undergraduates Widely Accept the Cheating of Classmates

BY SEBASTIAN HUMBERT // DEC. 5, 2011 //

There’s an old saying that cheaters never prosper. But at Curry College, a large number of undergraduates sure are trying.

Academic dishonesty both inside and outside the classroom is rampant at the college, according to a Currier Times survey of traditional undergraduates. Although only 19 percent of respondents admitted to cheating on an in-class quiz or test at Curry, a whopping 74 percent said they’ve witnessed a classmate cheat during class. Of those who witnessed cheating, just 4 percent reported it to the professor or a college administrator.

“I cheat on tests to get better grades,” said a junior management major who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of punishment from the college. “But I always cite my sources on papers!”

Academic dishonesty is no stranger to college campuses. Year after year, studies are conducted that report stunning admissions of cheating by students. One such study, out of George Mason University in Virginia, showed that up to 98 percent of graduates between 2000 and 2004 had engaged in plagiarism, and 41 percent of those had cheated on an in-class test. In an August 2011 survey of public and private university presidents, the Pew Research Center found that incidents of plagiarism have ballooned over the past 10 years, due largely to the availability of information through the Internet.

Only 11.5 percent of Curry respondents admitted to knowingly plagiarizing for course work. Some Curry students said they don’t cheat because they believe their professors are more likely to notice than their high school teachers were. “They make it harder to do so,” said Haley Carey, a sophomore education major. On test days, some professors strategically rearrange class seating to make it harder for students to cheat, she added.

Others say the personal relevance of the material will often dictate whether or not they cheat. “I did it a lot in high school,” said Samantha Valletta, a sophomore communication major. “But we actually need to know the stuff we’re learning now for our careers.”

Diane Webber, a professor in PAL and chairman of the college’s Undergraduate Academic Policy Committee, a group that reviews and recommends changes to various undergraduate academic policies, said Curry’s academic honesty policy is badly in need of updating. She was unable to pinpoint when the policy was last revised; it doesn’t even mention the existence of the Internet.

“It has not been looked at in a long time,” she said. “But with the way technology is going, we need to look at it again….We want people to be honest.”

According to the Times’ survey of students, only half reported ever reading Curry’s academic honesty policy, a meager one-page in the course catalog.

“Right now, a professor could actually fail a student for a test he was caught cheating [on], or fail him from the course, but it is up to that professor,” said Webber. “And a second offense could go to the [academic] dean’s office.

“I think that there is a lack of clarity, consensus and consistency” among professors, she added. “Some people handle [cheating] one way, some people don’t do anything at all.”

Currently, the only undergraduate department at Curry with a consistent protocol is nursing, which requires students to complete an online tutorial, offered through Indiana University, on what constitutes plagiarism. Students must also sign a document before every exam, promising not to cheat. Webber said the UAPC wants to work with “as many people as possible” to strengthen Curry’s academic honesty policy, as well as to build awareness among students and faculty about its importance. UAPC is looking to collaborate with several on-campus honor societies, academic departments and Chief Academic Officer David Potash.

One of the group’s primary challenges will be defining what constitutes academic dishonesty. For instance, is letting someone copy your homework dishonest? What about failing to report a classmate who cheats? To many people, these are gray areas.

“I know [cheating] is wrong, but everyone does it,” said a senior communication major, who asked for anonymity given the sensitive nature of the subject.

Some professors even see the matter as less than clear-cut. “No, I don’t think it is exactly academically dishonest,” said Jeannette DeJong, a senior lecturer in the Foreign Languages department. “It’s more of a question of personal ethics. It is up to that individual and their morals to decide if they should report the act or not.”

Given that only four students, out of the 90 who said they’ve witnessed in-class cheating, reported the offense to a professor or administrator, student morality is apparently quite low. The survey, conducted between Nov. 14 and 22, was emailed to all traditional undergraduates; 122 responded. Approximately 74 percent of respondents were female, which is far more than the overall female population of Curry students (about 52 percent). Nursing majors, who are largely female, constituted the highest percentage of respondents by major, at nearly 31 percent. Studies over the past 15 years have consistently shown that male college students are more likely than females to cheat, meaning that academic dishonesty at Curry is likely higher than the Times’ survey found.

“Yes, I have seen someone cheat on an exam before,” admitted Kylee Sayce, a sophomore management major who has a 3.5 GPA. “But I don’t care. It does not effect society in the same way that, say, murder or robbery would.” She added that she would call the police to file a report in the case of either of those examples.

Another student, a junior psychology major who wished to remain anonymous, said he understands why a student cheats, admitting that he has cheated before at Curry and that he would be a hypocrite if he ever “told on anyone.” He explained that he usually does not have the time to study and, in that situation, “it is easier to cheat.”

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