Campus responds to academic dishonesty

by James Jia | 2/5/15 9:45pm

Following the recent Religion 65 cheating scandal, in which 64 students were charged with honor principle violations, the topic of academic honesty resurfaced in campus discussion.

The last widespread incidence of cheating on campus occurred in 2000, when 78 students were accused, but never formally sanctioned of, cheating in an introductory computer science class when they alledgedly found solutions to a homework assignment online. The administration did not pursue the case due to the difficulty of distinguishing between those who cheated and those who did not, however this incident raised questions about what distinguishes cheating from using additional resources as well as the extent to which the College should actively root out cheaters.

Students were hesitant to make firm decisions when asked about whether students should be obliged to report their peers for academic dishonesty.

“People use the word cheating however they feel like it,” Prajan Divakar ’16 said. “If it’s not used correctly and you accidentally bring someone or something they said out of context, then you could create unnecessary conflicts.”

Margaret Carangelo ’18 echoed Divakar, saying that an individual’s response depends on the situation witnessed.

“I think there’s an obligation, but only if you’re 100 percent sure there’s cheating,” she said. “There’s lots of grey areas and if you’re not sure you shouldn’t be the one to decide.”

Aine Donovan, director of the Ethics Institute, disagrees that the honor code is ambiguous.

“I actually don’t think the honor code has any grey areas at all,” she said. “I think the grey area is how we promulgate the honor code.”

Dartmouth’s academic honor principle outlines various cases that would be considered academic dishonesty. Among those pages is the clause “each Dartmouth student accepts the responsibility to be honorable in the student’s own academic affairs, as well as to support the Principle as it applies to others.”

While supporting the honor principle as it applies to others may seem ideal, the actual task of reporting a fellow student for suspected cheating is not appealing to most students.

The honor principle’s idealistic goals often clash with students’ unwillingness to create conflict, Carter Bartram ’18 said.

“Ideally, anyone who sees cheating would report it immediately and everything would be resolved right then,” he said.

Computer science professor Gevor Grigoryan acknowledged students’ ethical obligation to report cheating but also noted the difficulty of accusing their peers, especially when they did not see the cheating explicitly.

“If they see something that’s clearly cheating, I don’t think there’s any question that they should report it,” he said. “Where it gets murky is where you see something, and you’re not quite sure what it was. I could see in a realistic situation that could be tricky.”

Donovan said that the academic code should rely on students’ integrity rather than stringent enforcement.

“I don’t think [the honor code] should be stricter,” Donovan said. “I think the issue at hand is that we need to be able to educate students. When you come into my class, I have full expectation that you are a person of integrity.”

Michael Smith ’18 emphasized the importance of trust, saying that he respects when professors walk out of the room when he takes a test.

Similarly, Brian Li ’17 said that he thinks the honor code should remain based on student’s integrity rather than stringent rules.

“I think that Dartmouth values privacy and trust,” he said. “If they were to crack down, it would seem kind of tyrannical to follow kids to the bathrooms or to make sure you have a TA on every single row and aisle to make sure that no one’s cheating.”

Divakar said that administrators’ main focus should be on preventing students from resorting to cheating.

“The people who want to cheat will always find a way to cheat. The people who don’t want to and want to actually learn will always find a way to learn,” he said. “I think it’s the people in the middle that we’re concerned about. We can stop them from making poor decisions.”

Donovan said that there is a positive effect than came out of the recent cheating scandal.

“If there’s anything good to come out of this, it’s that faculty and students are talking about the issue,” she said. “We’re trying to figure out how to do more in a very engaging way with students where we can talk about some of these principles and what it means to be part of this community.”