Academic decisions affect more than the individual

Recent instances of academic dishonesty have occurred where it might seem least likely. The BBC covered a story about engineers cheating on an ethics exam at Carleton University in Canada. In 2002, a senior level engineering class wrote essays on ethics. Reportedly, 31 students copied their essays from the Internet and, in one case, a student changed only four words. The Washington Post and the New York Times reported a case of cheating on an ethics exam in a journalism class at Columbia University. Columbia’s School of Journalism is held in high regard, but this incident has the potential to devalue degrees earned by its students.

USF defines cheating as follows: paraphrasing, granting or receiving of aid during a course-graded exercise, asking another person to take an examination in (the student’s) place, taking an examination for or in place of another student; stealing, borrowing, buying, or disseminating tests, answer keys or other examination material, drawings, sketches, diagrams, musical programs and scores, graphs, maps or computer programs and presenting them as one’s own.

A PBS program called In the Mix cited a number of studies and noted some interesting statistics. A Rutgers University Study conducted in 2001 found that “57% of high school students say they didn’t think copying a few sentences without proper credit, sharing test answers, or getting answers from someone who had taken the test was cheating.” Another study conducted in 2000 by the Josephson’s Institute of Ethics found that “53% of high school students say that cheating is ‘no big deal’, 98% say they have let others copy their work (and) 34% said their parents never talked to them about cheating.”

Cheating is common, even at USF. Everyone seems to know students who have reputations as rampant cheaters. These students possess little real interest in the subject they study and lack integrity. USF seems to avoid projecting an attitude of serious consequence for academic dishonesty.

The Tampa Tribune recently blasted USF and President Judy Genshaft for their handling of cheating allegations toward star football player Ben Moffitt. The Tribune alleged that USF “took cover under a student handbook provision” and that they “just want the controversy to go away.”

In cases of academic dishonesty, people cheat themselves more than anyone else. Each cheater suffers by not learning the material. They ultimately hurt others every time they make mistakes at their job. Their inability hurts the institution’s reputation. If cheating is allowed to thrive at USF, a pattern will form when students struggle in the workforce while representing USF. A degree from USF would lose value in the eyes of industry.

I used to work in the technology industry. I have friends at this school who I would happily point to recruiters and friends of mine in that field, but doing so puts my name behind them. They ultimately represent me, and my judgment of character and ability. Cheaters, however, will receive no such boon from me. They may not realize they have reduced their future potential, but indeed they have.

In response to academic dishonesty, the University should focus on three objectives: delineate, recognize and deter.

Delineate academic honesty and ethical practice to clearly show the importance of the issues. Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley states, “Universities must create communities where academic dishonesty is explained but not explained away.” USF must stand up and not waive its responsibility as it did in the Moffitt case. Professors should go over the details of academic dishonesty to limit gray areas.

Recognize the cheating and enforce punishments when it happens. Maintain a sharp lookout and supplement it with swift but fair corrective action by administrators. Whether seen by a student in class or an exam proctor, consistent vigilance will send home a message of zero tolerance for academic dishonesty.

Deter cheating by enforcing the rules in a public way. Los Angeles Mission College states, “Academic dishonesty is rampant, but students will respond to higher standards of integrity.” I strongly agree with Washington Post reporter Lawrence M. Hinman that “a strong, meaningful curriculum taught by committed professors is the first and most important defense against academic dishonesty.” The fight never ends, and everyone must do his or her part to combat it.

Jason Olivero is majoring in electrical engineering.