Dan Ariely–Harvard and the politics of large-scale cheating

We need to consider that for students, the social and professional circles vastly overlap, which makes it more difficult to separate what’s permissible and what isn’t. This is not to absolve students who cheat, but it’s something to consider. Students often live in the same place they go to class, which is essentially their workplace. Their friends are also their colleagues, and their “bosses” (professors and TAs) are often their friends. All this blending makes can make lines of conduct a bit more indistinct.

None of this is meant to make light of the problem of cheating, or to imply that it’s excusable. But if we want to prevent such things from happening again, we need to think about not just the students, but also the system in which they live and operate. Thus, professors need to work on being crystal clear in instructions. Telling students, for instance, “speak to no one other than the professor or your TA about any aspect of the exam” leaves no gray areas. All that said, it will be interesting to see how things at Harvard shake out ”¦

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Theology, Young Adults

3 comments on “Dan Ariely–Harvard and the politics of large-scale cheating

  1. john m says:

    “we need to think about not just the students, but also the system in which they live and operate.” While the author states that cheating is unacceptable, his overall premise seems to be it’s not that the students cheated, but rather the “system in which they live and operate …” is just as much a problem as the fact that there are dishonest people in this world.
    Background: I didn’t become a full time faculty member until I was in my early sixties, taught at a major university with a large Hispanic component in the student body and the faculty, progressed from teaching only to Department Chair before leaving the faculty after about 10 years. Early on during the time I was at the university students from my college went to the Dean and complained about the fact that (1) cheating was rampant and (2) the faculty and administration did not appear to be concerned. The Dean formed a college wide faculty committee to look into the allegations, and I was selected by the committee members as the chair primarily because all but me were tenure track but non-tenured, and none wanted to be responsible for coming up with a report that might conclude the allegations were true.
    And they were. We interviewed students, faculty and staff, and told it like it was. Sure enough the Dean tried to have us (me) change the conclusions and recommendations but having signed the report, I would not change it. So it essentially never saw the light of day.
    Later, attending an all university faculty discussion of the problem a senior member of the university’s administration echoed essentially the same words, “we need to think about not just the students, but also the system in which they live and operate.” His thesis was that the Hispanic culture was the problem, that students raised in that culture expected cheating and dishonesty, that since they didn’t know that cheating and dishonesty were improper, they shouldn’t be held accountable if they copied, plagiarized, etc.
    Didn’t buy it then, don’t buy it now. A kid knows darned well when he lifts an ice cream bar from the local 7-11 without paying for it that he is stealing. And a college student, no matter the ethnic or social background, knows full well what cheating is, what plagiarism is, what collaboration is, but they just don’t expect to be caught. It’s not the system, it is the individual, and the individual should be held accountable for their actions.

  2. Jeremy Bonner says:

    This isn’t meant to be a judgmental question, but you say the report never saw the light of day. Was there no outside forum willing to take the matter up, such as the alumni or a local newspaper? It seems outrageous that – having held the line against your colleagues – your conclusions were essentially mothballed.

  3. john m says:

    No. 2. I don’t really have an answer for you. In retrospect perhaps I should have mailed a copy of the report to the local newspaper, but I didn’t.