Cheating rife in US colleges in the digital age
Stanford University's honour code dates to 1921, written by students to help guide them through the minefield of plagiarism, forbidden collaboration, copying and other chicaneries that have tempted undergraduates since they first arrived on college campuses.
Exams aren't proctored and students are expected to police themselves and speak up when they see others committing violations.
But there appears to have been a massive breakdown during the recent winter quarter culminating in "an unusually high number of troubling allegations of academic dishonesty" reported to officials, according to a letter to faculty from Provost John Etchemendy.
"Among a smattering of concerns from a number of winter courses, one faculty member reported allegations that may involve as many as 20 per cent of the students in one large, introductory course," Etchemendy said in the March 24 letter.
Etchemendy went on to remind faculty members of their responsibility to discuss with students the seriousness of cheating - and the consequences. A first offence can result in a student being suspended for one quarter.
Although the Stanford allegations may have surprised some, for many others they cemented the belief that a culture of cheating pervades higher education. Harvard, Dartmouth, the Air Force Academy and other prominent institutions have recently grappled with allegations of large-scale cheating.
Studies find that students feel under more pressure than ever to succeed and increasingly see cutting corners as nothing serious. And they are being aided by cheating-friendly technology. Etchemendy alluded to those challenges.
"With the ease of technology and widespread sharing that is now part of the collaborative culture, students need to recognise and be reminded that it is dishonest to appropriate the work of others," he said.
Stanford officials said the allegations are under investigation, but declined to say which course is involved. Many students are being interviewed, spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said.
Lapin noted that some breaches of the honour code occur every quarter. In 2013-14, 83 honour cases were reviewed. Officials said they had no information on how many were found to be in violation.
Nationwide, about 68 per cent of undergraduates and 43 per cent of graduate students admit cheating on tests or written assignments, according to research by retired Rutgers business professor Donald L. McCabe and the International Centre for Academic Integrity at Clemson University.
As students see business leaders, athletes and their peers cheating - in many cases with impunity - the practice no longer carries the social stigma it once did, according to the research.
With competition at elite institutions especially intense, high-achieving students are as likely to cheat as those who struggle academically. "There is such steep competition for a relatively small number of resources, such as getting into a particular major or into graduate school, where one or two or three points might make a difference, that even good students see a reason to go for that unfair advantage," said Teddi Fishman, director of the Clemson centre.
And there's likely to be little progress as long as students and educational institutions remain focused on grades rather than learning, she said. But she also acknowledged a growing disconnect even in the definition of cheating in this age of easy access to smartphones and the internet.
Most students know plagiarism is wrong, for example, but see no harm in cutting and pasting from online resources or copying in group projects.
Tribune News Service