Sixty-four students handed sanctions for cheating

by Parker Richards | 1/26/15 12:03am

A spectrum of sanctions have been imposed on the 64 students involved in the cheating incident in religion professor Randall Balmer’s “Sports, Ethics and Religion” course last fall. Punishments range from four terms of academic probation to two terms of suspension, with the differences attributable to the varying circumstances of the individual students involved.

In a memo sent to Religion 65 students — obtained and published by Dartblog last Friday — interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer summarized both the reasons for declining student appeals and for the variety of sanctions handed down. Ameer confirmed the validity of the published memo and said she also sent individual letters to students involved.

“I wanted them to know that I took every argument that they made, which were many, very seriously,” Ameer said of the memo.

If a student was charged and did not self-identify on Oct. 30, the student received one term of suspension, the memo said. The overwhelming majority of students fell into that category, Ameer said. Students who are suspended are required to leave campus within 48 hours and may not return until they have completed requirements of the sanction and are formally readmitted by the undergraduate deans’ office.

If the chair of the Committee on Standards, charged with judging violations of the academic honor principle, felt that a student had misrepresented information in a written statement or a hearing, a two-term suspension was imposed, the memo said. Fewer than five students fell into that category.

If a student admitted that he or she was involved in violations of the academic honor principle on Oct. 30 to Balmer before the Office of Judicial Affairs was notified of the incident and Balmer — with judicial affairs director Leigh Remy — officially accused students on Nov. 11, that student received a sanction of four terms of College probation, the memo said. Such a sanction was applied to fewer than 10 students.

Restrictions associated with College probation include being barred from participating in College-associated student organizations such as sports teams or performance groups.

If a student was not responsible for a violation on Oct. 30 but came forward and reported making a similar violation on a different day — such that the College could not have successfully investigated the incident — a sanction of four terms of College probation was imposed, the memo said. That sanction applied to “fewer than five students.”

Lastly, if a student was charged based on the report of another student but did not self-report any involvement, that student also received a two-term suspension, the memo said. Again, fewer than five students were placed in that category.

Ameer said that she could not provide additional specific numbers for any category, nor could she discuss the details by which individual students could be potentially identified.

Thirty students appealed the initial punishments handed down, Ameer said, while the remainder accepted the initial outcomes of their cases.

“I was really impressed with how all the Dartmouth students behaved in this and took responsibility,” Ameer said. “I continue to be impressed with Dartmouth students in my time here. Most of them accepted what happened and are moving on.”

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

Ameer said that the sanctions were generally consistent with punishments for past violations of the academic honor principle. Any violation is considered “major misconduct” by the College and is treated as such, she said.

No student involved will have a record of their violations or punishments on their transcripts, Ameer said, though all students will have a record of the incident maintained in their student files.

Ameer said that many graduate schools request information from their applicants regarding any interactions with judicial affairs offices, but added that the College does not release information without the students’ permission. The students themselves will be responsible for reporting their conduct to potential future employers, Ameer said.

“I don’t think it’s going to prevent any of these students from going on and having successful lives,” she said. “I think they’re all going to be much better people as a result, even though it was really hard and difficult, and I want to stress that I understand how stressful it’s been.”

Balmer said on Sunday that he had not yet been informed of the outcomes of the hearings or what punishments were handed down for students.

“I defer to the wisdom of the Committee on Standards, and I don’t really have anything to add to that,” he said.

Balmer said that he was “happy not to be more involved” in the process than he was and that he hopes to put the incident behind him.

Ameer and College spokesperson Diana Lawrence declined to disclose how many students punished were varsity athletes, citing privacy-related concerns.

Ameer said that athletes would never be treated differently in judicial proceedings than non-athletes, but noted that she was speaking generally.

“Every Dartmouth student is responsible for the academic honor principle, no matter what you do in your out-of-class time,” she said.

The entire judicial process for all 64 cases was concluded within less than three months from Balmer’s initial observations on Oct. 30. From when the Office of Judicial Affairs became involved on Nov. 11 to Jan. 19, when all matters concluded the review process, the College was able to hold all hearings and review all appeals. Ameer said that there are not many institutions that could fairly adjudicate that number of cases in that period of time in a way that was fully respectful to students.

“I was just so impressed, honestly, that we were able to follow through with all of these cases,” Ameer said. “I thought it showed that we have a strong judicial system, and a strong academic honor principle.”

Remy declined to comment and directed all questions to Lawrence.

Ameer said that she sympathized with the students involved and that she hoped that in the future students would consider the potential impact on others when asking friends to break rules for them.

Ameer said that she hopes students learn that at times, they may be put in difficult social situations, but they must learn to overcome temptation.

Faculty and administrators need to better communicate the academic honor principle to students and the proceedings and ramifications that occur following breaches of the principle, Ameer said.

“I think it’s pretty clear that we need to do a lot more as an institution to talk about it,” she said.

It is unclear if the incident will impact future proceedings of a similar sort. Conversations about the impact of the incident are still to be had, Ameer said.

Balmer said that the incident had a negative impact on his trust with students.

“There has been a level of trust that is important for learning that’s been violated, and I regret that,” he said. “It’s part of the sadness of the whole situation. It would be foolish and naive of me not to be more cautious, and that’s what I have to learn from the situation.”

Ameer, however, emphasized the maturity of the students involved.

“I was very proud of the students and how they came forward, how they behaved and how they reflected, but it’s still a violation of the academic honor principle, and that’s really what I had to base my final decision on,” she said.

The incident received broad coverage in the national and international media, generating reports in The Boston Globe, the Daily Mail in London, The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press, among other media outlets.

Several students who were enrolled in the course did not respond to requests for comment.