Sixty-four students charged with honor code violations

by Parker Richards | 1/6/15 8:27pm

A total of 64 students have been charged with various honor principle violations stemming from an investigation into a cheating incident in religion professor Randall Balmer’s “Sports, Ethics and Religion” course last fall, judicial affairs director Leigh Remy said in an email.

Most students requested individual hearings, which primarily took place before Thanksgiving and over the winter interim period, Remy said in the email. Requests for a review of the disciplinary measures imposed will be overseen by interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer, Remy wrote.

Ameer did not respond to a request seeking comment by press time.

Balmer said that, to his knowledge, most students involved were suspended from the College for one term. Balmer directed further inquiries to Remy, who declined to comment further on the matter. Numerous sources confirmed that certain students involved were suspended for one term.

The cheating incident first came to light when Balmer recorded a discrepancy in the number of student responses to in-class questions using handheld clickers and the number of students in the classroom on Oct. 30, 2014. Balmer presented both a hard copy version and a clicker version of certain questions, and noted that 43 students did not respond to the paper version of the questions but did respond using clickers.

Balmer and Remy held the 43 students in question after class on Nov. 11 so that Balmer could officially accuse them, and Remy could inform them of their rights and the possible disciplinary actions that could be taken against them.

Unauthorized collaboration and giving and receiving assistance during an examination or quiz violate the College’s academic honor principle.

Balmer characterized the “forensic evidence” against the 43 students as “overwhelming” in a column he wrote for The Valley News, published Dec. 7.

In addition to the 43 students Balmer accused, other students came forward and admitted responsibility for violations of the honor principle.

Remy and College director of media relations Diana Lawrence both declined to provide any specifics regarding the ongoing proceedings or to discuss any imposed disciplinary actions. The College will not officially comment on disciplinary measures until all proceedings have concluded, likely in mid-January.

Remy said in an email that there is only one remaining hearing, but added that “commenting at this point about outcomes is premature, as the requests for review have not been acted upon.”

In a statement, the athletic department said that it “fully supports the strong stance against academic dishonesty Dartmouth has always taken and the respect it has shown for fair hearings.”

The statement goes on to point out that some student athletes who admitted involvement to their coaches have already faced sanctions from the athletic department.

Varsity athletics communication director Rick Bender said that he would not discuss disciplinary measures taken by coaches against specific players who were involved in the incident.

Bender also said that he is not aware how many of the students involved were varsity athletes, although he said that members of “a wide variety of teams” were involved.

Bender said that he is not aware of any students being barred from continued participation in varsity athletics.

“Coaches will use this as a teaching moment for their teams,” Bender said.

The course itself was partly designed for student-athletes, Balmer said, and just under 70 percent of the course’s enrollment of 272 students were athletes. Members of 24 of the College’s 36 varsity athletic teams were enrolled in the course.

“Part of the reason I designed this course was that I had the sense that some athletes coming here to Dartmouth might have felt just a little bit overwhelmed or intimidated academically,” Balmer said. “I wanted to design a course that would appeal to their interests and allow them to have an early success in the classroom, and I’d hoped that they would be able to build on that success throughout their time at Dartmouth.”

Hearings were heard in accordance with Committee on Standards hearing regulations, and requests for review and the reviews themselves will be presented and conducted based on the same regulations.

According to the COS hearing guidelines available through the Dean of the College’s office, students are first notified that proceedings against them are being organized by the committee.

From that time, the student or students accused have a minimum of five days to prepare for the hearing. They then are allowed one advisor each for the hearing who may be a current student, faculty member or administrator. This advisors can consult with the accused students and aid in the preparation of a defense. The accused also have access to all judicial affairs materials and witness lists prepared for the hearing.

Students accused have the right to request witnesses, present information and arguments, hear all information presented and make opening and closing statements. Students accused may also suggest questions for witnesses to the committee chair.

The website states that “formal rules of evidence and courtroom procedures are inapplicable” to COS hearings. In matters pertaining to cheating, attorneys may only be present if a criminal matter is pending, if an accusing student desires the presence of an attorney after claiming that physical violence occurred or to advise the committee members. All attorneys must serve as “non-participating observers.”

The COS must find that a “preponderance of the evidence supports” a finding of guilt before determining that a student has violated a College rule.

A student can ask for a review of the decision based upon procedural error, new evidence that has come to light or the belief “that the sanction imposed is excessive, insufficient or inappropriate,” according to the Dean of the College’s office’s website.

The request for review must be submitted within seven days of the initial decision. The reviewing officer — the Dean of the College or his or her designee — may either uphold the original decision, refer the matter back to the COS or adjust the sanctions imposed.

Balmer expects to participate directly in only one hearing, set for next week. He was not present at any other COS proceedings.

He said that he is not currently sure why he was summoned to that hearing.

“I would guess that someone is contesting that I have evidence against him or her of cheating,” Balmer said. “I guess someone could make that case. It’d be a pretty tough case to substantiate I should think, but I’m only speculating.”

Balmer said that he has no plans to use clickers for his courses in the future, and said that it is unlikely that “Sports, Ethics and Religion” would be offered again.

He said he was also personally hurt by the incident. Even after accepting the “abject apologies” of roughly half the students involved, he feels that the trust he previously had with students was harmed.

“I feel very sad about it,” he said. “I feel sad for the students involved. I feel sad myself. I feel betrayed. I take pride in my teaching. I invest a lot in my courses, and to have that met with this type of cavalier indifference is disappointing.”

Balmer also said that he will have to devote more time in class to monitoring the behavior of his students in the future.

“I am much more in the position going forward of having to monitor students’ behavior in a junior high school sort of way, and I don’t like that,” Balmer said. “I would much rather talk about ideas. I’d rather try to impart my excitement about the life of the mind rather than worry about who is cheating from whom and who is copying from whom.”

Biology professor Roger Sloboda, who uses clickers in several of his courses, said that they are “absolutely” an effective teaching method and that he has no plans to abandon them.

However, Sloboda noted it is easier for students to cheat using clickers in a larger class, such as Balmer’s, than in his own courses that typically enroll roughly 60 students.

“It’s easier to know how many people are there and how many clicks I get in response to every question,” Sloboda said.

Balmer declined to comment on the issue of class size.

“I don’t think anybody should stop using clickers, which have documented pedagogical effectiveness, because one group of students chose to cheat in a philosophy class,” Sloboda said.

Sloboda also said that he “honors” the students who did not cheat in the “Sports, Ethics and Religion” course, and said that coverage should focus on them, rather than on their peers who have been accused of or admitted to cheating.

The “Sports, Ethics and Religion” controversy has received significant attention in the national and regional press. Shortly after The Dartmouth first reported the story, Vermont Public Radio, Business Insider, MTV News, Education News, EduWire and many other sports and education-focused websites and blogs covered the incident. Press coverage focused on the perceived irony of students electing to cheat — an activity generally viewed as unethical — in an ethics-centered course.

The Valley News also reported the story, with coverage largely focusing on Balmer’s reaction to the incident.

“I would just like to disappear and forget about the whole thing, frankly,” Balmer said.