Cardinal Sin? Stanford Provost Laments Increase in Cheating


Reports of cheating among Stanford students have increased, according to the university Provost's letter to faculty, facilitated in large part by everyday technology.

Stanford's Provost John Etchemendy said in his letter than he found an "unusually high number" of academic dishonesty reports after the winter term, including at least 20% of students in a large introductory course in addition to 83 reports in the 2013-2014 academic year. He asked faculty to be more vigilant about possible cheating and to be very clear in defining what constitutes collaboration and what crosses the line.

Chris Staiti of Bloomberg Business quotes Etchemendy's letter:

In violating academic integrity, they are cheating themselves out of the very core of our mission– the process of learning and discovery– as well as risking severe consequences.

With the ease of technology and widespread sharing that is now part of a collaborative culture, students need to recognize and be reminded that it is dishonest to appropriate the work of others.

Students who are found guilty of academic dishonesty, after the opportunity to defend themselves against the charge, are usually suspended for a quarter and required to perform 40 hours of community service work. If it happens again, the punishments are more severe.

University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin played down concerns, according to ABC News, calling the findings routine. "We have a lot of classes and a lot of students," she said. "It's not unusual to have a handful of concerns raised every term."

Other selective schools have encountered similar problems recently. In January, 64 students in a sports ethics class at Dartmouth College were accused of cheating. According to Rowena Lindsay of the Christian Science Monitor, students at Harvard University, the University of North Carolina, the Air Force Academy, and Stuyvesant High School have also come under fire in high-profile cases of academic dishonesty in recent years.

All new Stanford students are required to agree to the college's honor code, writes Deborah Hastings of the NY Daily News, but obviously some are going back on their word. Why is this happening at an increasing rate?

Studies have shown that today's students, in both high school and college, are cheating more than ever, and also that high achievers are just as likely to cheat as struggling students. This is due partially to technological strides that make it easier to both find information to plagiarize and to share schoolwork with other students, but it is also a cultural change. Etchemendy noted in his letter that millenials have been raised in a culture of collaboration, and Howard Gardner, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, says that the pressure to succeed trumps moral concerns for contemporary students and therefore "the ethical muscles have atrophied."

Donald L. McCabe, a professor at the Rutgers University Business School and a cheating expert, says that the competition and pressure of academic success, that, "… students have become more competitive, under more pressure, and as a result, tend to excuse more from themselves and other students, and that's abetted by the adults around them."

03 30, 2015
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