Max Jacob once said, “When you get to the point where you cheat for the sake of beauty, you’re an artist.” In Jacob’s mind, perhaps, the pursuit of beauty was considered such a virtue that it subsumed all others, and thus a true artist should let no other considerations hinder his quest. It’s a romantic notion to be sure. But, alarmingly, this attitude is spreading into other professional vocations, and the implications are dire.
In a new study by Donald L. McCabe from Rutgers University, Kenneth D. Butterfield from Washington State University and Linda Klebe Trevino from Penn State, a survey of graduate students in various disciplines found the worrying attitude that one isn’t a businessman, lawyer, or what have you unless you’re willing to cheat. McCabe’s team asked 5,331 graduate students in 32 colleges and universities whether they had cheated in the past year during the course of their studies, and if so, how often. Fully 56 percent of MBA candidates admitted to cheating at least once in the past year, 33 percent admitting to cheating at least three times in that span. The other disciplines did not fare much better, with graduate students in the humanities and social studies cheating the least at a still-impressive 39 percent rate.
Remember, this is all just within the past year. The study says nothing about the long-term habits of cheating that these students may have already garnered. It’s easy to see where this kind of disregard for the rules takes us: Debacles like Enron and WorldCom came about when executives adopted a bottom-line attitude where you’re not a businessman until you cheat for the sake of profit or stock value. So long as the numbers look good, what’s to worry? If anything, cheating becomes seen as “thinking outside the box,” or “creative,” regardless of how the ethical chips fall later. But that’s not the only motivation. If you were an MBA candidate and you knew that more than half of your fellow classmates were cheating on occasion to get better grades, you would feel a need to cheat in self-defense–to “keep up,” so to speak. If someone else’s cheating can affect your grade, like on an exam curve, then a cheater who gets an A is depriving you of being able to get that slot for the A, and so your cheating would even the odds. It’s not the most noble rationalization, but with survey results like McCabe obtained, it’s not entirely unreasonable, either.
There are also times that people cheat by mistake, like when a student who has been absent for family or personal reasons much of the semester uses their book for the final exam not knowing that the exam is closed-book. It’s a dumb mistake, sure, but graduate students are not exempt from making them, and these mistakes are usually easy to find and correct.
But for the real cheaters, discovery and prevention of cheating can be a daunting task. Part of the problem is that the advance of technology has made cheating much easier. The Internet alone is a plagiarist’s dream come true, with thousands of documents only a few keystrokes away from being found, snipped, and inserted in part or as a whole in a student’s work.
Teachers and professors are starting to fight back. The Washington Post recently reported on an initiative at McLean High School where papers would be submitted to Turnitin, a for-profit service that checks the papers against millions of other papers and online documents, and then adds the new paper to the database for future comparisons. As a first line of defense against plagiarism, Turnitin is invaluable for educators besieged by clever students looking for shortcuts, which is why the service is being used by over 6,000 institutions in 90 countries. Even for those students who do not intend to cheat, the presence of a cite-checker encourages students to be more conscientious about their writing without incurring unbearable costs in time and effort by their teachers.
Unsurprisingly, the students at McLean aren’t too excited about Turnitin. The main complaint so far has been that Turnitin violates the students’ intellectual property rights when it adds their papers to the database. The implication of this, though, is that a teacher, after receiving all the papers on a given assignment, would be violating intellectual property rights to simply compare two identical papers that were submitted, because that would be an unauthorized use of the works. Don’t expect that argument to get very far.
The other complaint, though, is more emotional. A service like Turnitin made McLean sophomore Chelsea Shalhoup feel “like I have to prove I’m not cheating. . . . I can’t just be trusted to say I didn’t cheat in the first place.” In other words, to fight against cheating makes the subject students feel like they’re not trusted. Why start with the assumption that the students don’t deserve trust?
I believe McCabe’s study adequately answers that question. The earlier that students are implored to prove their trustworthiness, the more they will develop habits consistent with earning trust, and the more others will be able to trust them when, later, people really do start taking them at their word. Because once the “bottom line” becomes the only virtue, whether it be beauty or business, trust becomes nothing more than the rug we sweep cheating under to fester.
James N. Markels is an attorney and a regular columnist for Brainwash.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire