Saturday, December 14, 2013

Save Higher Education: Toss the Cheaters


(sorry about the slowdown, I've had the flu)

By Professor Doom

 

Faculty: “Of the thirty students in the course, only 4 actually submitted their own work. The rest...didn’t even realize I can tell where they got their code from.”

Administrator: “If you do not pass at least 15 students in this course, we’ll have to shut the program down, and we won’t need your position anymore.”

--Computer science faculty explaining to me why he was polishing his resume…not that he could afford to leave that very semester.


     Last time around I touched on the possibility that accredited institutions distinguish themselves by removing cheaters from college courses. Administrators encourage cheating, at least indirectly by letting cheaters evaluate professors (and in turn using those evaluations to influence a professor’s job), but keeping cheaters isn’t merely enhancing retention—the only thing an administrator cares about—it’s hurting all the other students who are legitimately trying to get an education. Encouraging cheating in higher education is as insane as a merchant going out of his way to have shoplifters in his store…it’s just bad business.

 

“The Dean’s office and my chair ‘expressed their appreciation’ for me chasing such cases (in December), but six months later, when I received my annual evaluation, my yearly salary increase was the lowest ever, and significantly lower than inflation, as my ‘teaching evaluations took a hit this year.’”

--NYU Professor explaining how catching cheaters lowered his evaluations, hurting himself in the process. Poor guy thought that once he acquired tenure, he’d able to catch cheaters without penalty. Over the course of the rest of his career, catching cheaters just for one semester might cost him $50,000 or more. That he waited until after tenure to try such a boneheaded move shows that he had gotten the memo from administration earlier: do not catch cheaters.

 

      Seriously, “This institution expels cheaters” needs to be fundamental to accreditation. Expulsion, from a class, for a semester, or from the institution, used to be a real risk of being caught cheating, but now there are no risks. Administrative encouragement of cheating is a huge factor in the atmosphere on campus today, where the majority—the majority!—of students admit to cheating at some point in their career, and where most every attempt to catch cheaters in a course does so in abundance. Not banishing cheaters means they stay in the class, able to exert power over the faculty with the student evaluation.  The cheater’s “honest” evaluation of the teacher would be suspect in any thinking person’s eyes, albeit not those of an administrator, who bases so much of a faculty member’s career on evaluations.

     Administrators don’t want cheaters caught or penalized, much less expelled, because it cuts into retention rates, but this typically narrow and shortsighted view needs to be discouraged, above and beyond the stomach-churning fact that administrators penalize faculty for catching cheaters, for trying to have integrity in the institution. An institution that graduates cheaters doesn’t just do the cheater a favor, it detracts from the value of the degrees granted to the honest students. Over time, the institution becomes something of a joke, although in that time the administrator has moved up and on as a result of his great success at “leadership” of an institution with many dishonest graduates.

 

     This is what has happened to a large extent with online degrees, where any non-administrator can see the potential for cheating, a potential that has been realized to a great extent. Online degrees, even from accredited online institutions that have been around for a decade or more, are still basically worthless pieces of paper, useful only to those that already have a position along with accommodating managers (or administrators) who know not to look too closely at the source of the degree (often because they have such degrees themselves). This near worthlessness is what all college degrees, not just online degrees, are turning into, and shutting down the cheating window would go a long way to preserving some prestigious value to a degree.

In 2007, half of the second-year class at the Indiana University School of Dentistry allegedly used information that other students obtained through hacking to pass an exam,

--Yes, half the class. It’s that ridiculous. If half the people going for medical degrees, a profession with some reputation for integrity, are cheating, how many psych majors do you think are cheating?

     A student caught cheating should be removed from the course, and probably expelled. It’s that simple. There are few places in this country that are more than an hour’s drive from multiple institutions of higher learning, being expelled from one institution is not a life-destroying event, the cheater can just go elsewhere. For those few students that do only have one choice and can’t afford to be expelled, they still have the option of, well, not cheating in the first place.

Student: “This is for Skippy!”  *pow*

--a student with psychological problems got excited at a charity event and punched me full in the face. I saw no reason for disciplinary action, and after well over six years of full time enrollment the student did manage to get his worthless 2 year degree.

 

     While this might give too much power to faculty to get rid of students they just don’t like, in all honesty I’ve never seen a professor accuse a student of cheating out of malice. This just isn’t a concern, although perhaps it’s possible a professor could be wrong. There are already procedures in place for students that feel they’ve been wrongly accused of cheating. These procedures are not much used now since faculty are penalized for finding cheaters, but this relic from a bygone era can easily return, to protect that rare possibility of harming an innocent. This is a risk higher education should be willing to take, for the sake of the millions of people that are definitely being harmed by the “open cheating” atmosphere of today, if not for the sake of the reputation of higher education, which is in real danger of being destroyed by administrative policies.

Tutors for the basketball team at the University of Minnesota admitted they had written hundreds of papers for players.

--I really should talk about the corruption of college sports…but it’s just too easy a target. Do you really think the professors of these basketball players really believed the papers were legit?

 

     Now, I’ll grant you, at first, these policies could flush half the students out of higher education (and cause real problems for athletic programs, but the athletes there should just have special programs, or just be enrolled for Education degrees). That dental school above was no aberration, it’s quite common, when faculty check, to find half of the students in a course are cheating in some fashion. Faculty are strongly discouraged from checking.

 

     If an institution can quickly and easily lose accreditation by allowing cheaters to graduate, administrators might rethink their position on cheating. This idea might sound draconian, but higher education, in its current form, is in great danger of vanishing. The tolerance and encouragement of cheating, far more than the student loan scam, can lead to the annihilation of the higher education system that’s been core to Western Civilization for centuries.

    Allow me to reinforce this point.

     The “drastic action” of having some integrity is required because the world is changing. Free universities and the content of high quality courses are available to anyone with an internet connection. It’s only a matter of time until the knowledge of most all degree programs, identical in every way to what is offered at a “traditional institution,” is available online for free. 

     Free.

     I grant that this knowledge has been in books, and thus relatively free, for many decades now, but now we have a corrupted accreditation system providing cover for a corrupted higher education system…it’s impossible to tell if a degree-holder actually has this knowledge.

     Which of the following sounds like a more likely candidate for a degree-requiring position: someone that paid $50,000 for a degree at an institution where he could easily have cheated his way through the entire program, or someone who shows up with a flash drive, containing examples of all the work he did and skills he learned pursuing the same degree at a free university? Both candidates could be lying and know nothing, but the second at least wasn’t stupid enough to waste $50,000 for a slip of paper that means nothing. Employers are already smart enough to think that through for online degrees, and students will figure it out eventually.

    If “traditional” institutions don’t do something, soon, to establish that they’re offering something more than a piece of paper, that they’re willing to honestly certify some legitimacy to what they’re doing, they’ll be history. It’s simply a matter of time before employers realize that traditional schools no more legitimately train students than online schools, accredited or not.

 

The suit claims a Zicklin administrator made professors allegedly pad grades for about 15 students in order to keep $45,000 to $75,000 tuition checks coming into the school.

--I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: retention is everything to administrators. There is no other concern.

      It’s a sign of how far institutions have fallen, how minimal the integrity, that I feel the need to present pages of arguments for “get rid of cheaters.” A generation or two ago, it was understood that penalties for cheating were severe and now, students literally complain when they’re caught cheating, since they know administrators will rush to help them.

     So that’s the next fix: “This institution does not tolerate cheating” needs to be core to accreditation, and even if it isn’t there, it needs to be core to any institution of higher education. Otherwise, higher education in its current form is doomed. Granted, I’m a bit biased in thinking the system of higher education of the 14th century to about 1990 is worth having again…but it still seems far superior to the primarily corrupt and fraudulent system of today.