Honor and Cheating Students

The American Scholar has an interesting article published on the increase of students cheating in their classes in order to get ahead.  Here is a snippet:

One of the gloomiest recent reports about the nation’s colleges and universities reinforces the suspicion that students are studying less, reading less, and learning less all the time: “American higher education is characterized,” sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa said last year, “by limited or no learning for a large proportion of students.” Their book, Academically Adrift, joins a widening, and often negative, reassessment of what universities contribute to American life. Even President Obama has gotten into the act, turning one problem with higher education into an applause line in his latest State of the Union address. “So let me put colleges and universities on notice,” he said: “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury—it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

Where should we lay the blame for the worsening state of one of the foundations of American civilization, one that has long filled us with justifiable pride? The big public universities are already bogged down by diminishing financial support from the states; private education is imperiled by tuition costs that discourage hundreds of thousands of middle-class and poorer students from applying. Some schools have made heroic attempts to diversify their student bodies, but too little financial aid is available to make access possible for all the applicants with academic promise.

What is happening inside the classroom for those who do get in? Who is teaching the students? Less and less often it is a member of an institution’s permanent faculty, and rarer still one of its distinguished professors. More and more of the teaching has been parceled out to part-time instructors who have no hope of landing a full-time position. Because of this, their loyalty to the school that hired them, and to the students they will probably meet in just one course and never again, has diminished.

You should really go read the rest.  It is quite good.  Then come back here.

Back?  Good.  I’m reminded of a time last year in one of my classes when a student was clearly cheating on their work.  It was the first time I had ever really noticed it happening, and the sad thing about it was that the student clearly had no idea how obvious their cheating habits were.

One time he submitted a paper which included the links from the Wiki article he had copied it from; he had forgotten to remove them before submitting it!  As a fellow student I complained to the professor because I saw no public reaction.  In fact I wanted a public reaction.  I wanted the professor to openly call out the student for his blatant disregard for the work the rest of us had done.  It was frustrating and I wanted to know what the professor was going to do about it.

The professor wrote back only that he had spoken with the student privately and he assured me it was taken care of; there would be no more incidents.  But there were incidents.  The student became wise (well, so to speak) and instead started using websites without links.  The next paper they submitted had been taken directly from the website of a faculty member at another university.  But this time the student didn’t quote the whole paper, but block-quoted several parts with a few of their own sentences sporadically placed.  This time, I responded to this student directly–posting the link to the website the paper came from with a few remarks about plagiarizing.

The funny part was that the assignment had been to write about the Roman Republic; this student’s plagiarized paper was on the Roman Empire–evidence that the student (a) wasn’t reading and (b) was clueless about the difference.  But this only made my frustration worse; why wasn’t this student disciplined?   Were there not strict guidelines about academic integrity in the syllabus of the course?  I remember reading that the consequences of being caught plagiarizing were quite severe.  Yet there is no doubt in my mind the student submitted work on at least three occasions which had been clearly plagiarized.

Then this really got me thinking; I remember that line from the movie Accepted, where Lewis Black is talking about the purpose of college.  He says:

“College is a service industry….  As in “serve us,” as opposed to the other way around.  Look, you see all these kids out here?  They all paid to come here. They all paid for an experience.”

Essentially, college is there to educate us. But I think too many students, fresh out of High School with no real appreciation for the value of education, don’t understand that college is not the same as the grade school life they just left.  In practice, yes, they recognize they are on their own (sort of), that they will be moving away from home (in most instances), and that they will be responsible for motivating themselves (usually).  But they don’t realize that they are paying for something.  And what they are paying for isn’t of any interest to them.  It’s like having a membership to a gym that you never go to anymore.  Except this time, the annual fee is upwards of $25,000 a year.

The sad part is, as was stated in that one High Ed article of which I can’t remember the title, students are demanding less education but are paying more money.  It is the one thing in this economy (with the exception of perhaps Healthcare) we are paying more for something of which we demand less.  It is quite troubling.   And I don’t believe the faculty has the power to do much about it–not as much as the students (those of us who actually care about getting a solid education for the money we are paying into it).

Anyway, give the article some consideration.

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