Mired in a culture of cheating

July 14, 2010

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CHEATING IS rampant in American universities, but the root of the problem is deeper than students simply not knowing where the limits lie (“Cheating: Teach students first, then crack down,’’ Editorial, July 11).

I have had ample opportunity to observe student cheating as well as changes in their attitudes over the past 40 years that I have been teaching at the university level. The limits of what constitutes cheating have not changed; plagiarism is plagiarism whether you copy work with a typewriter or cut and paste it with a word processor. What has changed is that cheating has become more acceptable and, therefore, more visible.

Cheating by politicians, corporations, celebrities, and others gets far more intense media scrutiny today than in the past, creating the impression that cheating is increasing.

Universities themselves have become deceivers, using hype for purposes of branding and ranking rather than meaningful change that benefits classroom education.

Growing criticism of universities further undermines their credibility in the eyes of the public and students. It is little wonder that students and parents no longer respect faculty or value class work to the same degree as in the past. A diploma is now viewed as a ticket to a job rather than evidence of scholarly achievement and personal growth.

If universities aren’t making themselves clear, individual instructors are, from talking in class about cheating to posting anti-cheating statements in syllabi.

The ultimate solution starts in the home, with parents or caregivers setting examples and clear limits. To blame universities alone is disingenuous and comes too late in a student’s academic career to be effective.

Martin E. Ross,
The writer is an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at Northeastern University.

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