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Game theory in the popular press.

Let the sunlight of honesty disinfect cheating plague

Arizona State University Web Devil
Stephen Happell and Marianne Jennings
April 18, 2003
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Academic cheating is pervasive at U.S. universities.

The latest figures from Rutgers University on academic dishonesty indicate 70 percent of undergraduate students have cheated at least once on an exam, 87 percent have cheated on written work, 52 percent have copied work from others, and 54 percent have plagiarized.

The numbers don't reflect the sheer chutzpah of the college cheater or apply to online business degree programs. Students at San Diego State were punished with failing grades for turning in term papers they had not written. What class were they in? Ethics!

Berkeley's business school now requires applicants to pay a $35 fee for verification. Because of this new system, five students lost "admit" status this year because background checks revealed they had lied about work experience or job titles.

Anyone who has taught or taken the crowded mega sections at ASU knows that cheating is rampant. Two years ago, an entire row of MBA students was caught cheating on a reading quiz!

What tipped the professor off? They all had the same answer for a question: wrong and misspelled.

As ASU professors for over 20 years and former associate deans in the W. P. Carey School of Business, we have seen every type of cheating imaginable.

The ingenuity staggers our imaginations, such as the student who made cheat sheets in the shape of a foot, pasted them into shoes, and then considered marketing the idea as "Footnotes."

Cheating is a negative externality. Those unwilling to study or lacking the mental acumen to earn a desired grade, copy the work of others or bring the answers with them. Students who observe this wonder, "Do I turn the person in and be branded a traitor, or do I let it go?"

Cheating creates a prisoner's dilemma for non-cheaters. They may be compelled to cheat in order to hold their own in a course. And social grace is often afforded so-called student leaders who cheat and then brag about their cleverness.

The pervasiveness and seemingly hopeless nature of the problem causes some students and even academicians to argue that it has always been around at universities and is part of college life, so it must be accepted to some extent. We have a name for such people - village idiots.

As professors concerned with efficiency, we lament the resources devoted to cheating prevention. We have two or more versions of exams. We color-code, fold and spindle in an effort to stave off diabolical minds.

A cadre of graduate students must patrol classes on exam days, and Ph.D. candidates are relegated to the role of bouncers controlling entry and exit from exams.

When an intellectual thief is caught, due process requires faculty time for standards committee hearings. Lawyers enter the fray arguing about the clarity on the sanctions for cheating.

We have even encountered students who, when caught in the final semester, believe it to be grossly unfair to receive an "F" or be kicked out of school, given their previous effort. If you're so stupid to cheat as your graduation approaches, you are too stupid for a degree.

There is no good versus bad, or major versus minor cheating when it comes to institutional integrity. Academic cheating is wrong. Period.

ASU is a great institution that wants to stand out to the rest of the world as a leader in advanced education. Therefore, we propose that the Academic Senate pass the following:

Upon entry to the University, each student signs an affidavit stating he or she will not cheat (where cheating is carefully defined and each professor makes clear what is allowed).

Furthermore, he or she will immediately report any instances of cheating to the proper authorities. If caught cheating, a student will be expelled from the University and the incident will be duly noted in the transcript and released for publication to The State Press.

We are not so na´ve as to believe this will eliminate all cheating. The scandals at the military academies and schools like the University of Virginia - where students do sign affidavits - show that human nature's negative side emerges even under the strictest rules.

Our proposal, however, means students will be looking over their shoulders, wondering who's watching. And for those entering ASU with shades of gray in their definitions of cheating, there will be greater moral clarity.

Let the sunlight of honesty prevail to disinfect this awful plague. As a leading University, let's advertise this program to the rest of the world. The headlines would blare: ASU commits to absolutes in academic integrity; ASU community joins together to curb cheating; and ASU graduates earn their degrees the old-fashioned way - through hard work and study!

© 2003 ASU Web Devil