Monday, July 14, 2014

Higher Education Promotes Cheating

By Professor Doom

    Continuing with a book by an Australian academic, I see more reinforcement of what I’ve testified to in this blog. What I’ve read leads to another conjecture on my part.

     See, there’s obviously something really wrong in the world right now. America, as “world leader,” obviously has to be part of that wrong. Fraud, lies, and corruption are so everyday that nobody even cares any more. So what if supposedly-conquered Iraq is now being overrun by a few thousand mercenaries (am I the only one that remembers Iraq’s size was why we couldn’t find WMDs even with a couple hundred thousand troops)? So what if the government says inflation is 1.5% even as every expense I have is up more than that (am I the only one with a pocket calculator)? So what if politicians get massive  kickbacks from constructing universities even as on-site student population is dropping (am I the only one to notice the empty buildings)?

     This sort of corruption is not the act of a single person, it takes many people looking the other way to pull the previous capers off. Many of the people that do this are trained in the US education system, a system that has infected the Australian higher education system. I’ve discussed many times how college administrators encourage cheating, and overlook even the most extreme examples. That’s just my testimony, however, even as I’ve shown that faculty who catch cheaters will be punished.

     Cheating is rampant in America’s higher education system, but administration only wants growth, and getting rid of cheaters would cut into that.

     I’ve seen many student papers where it was clear all the student did was “cut and paste” from somewhere, then call the writing his own. In times past, this was called plagiarism, and cheating, and students that did such were failed, if not tossed from university. Now, it’s still called cheating, but students are no longer penalized…and admin tells me to just let the student plagiarize write another paper.

     Educationists have succeeded in making cheating acceptable to the point that most students cheat. In Australia, they’re upping their game:

The “cut and paste” habit is a hard one to break. Undaunted by such problems, noted Educationalist and “Futurist” Dr Dale Spender has castigated university academics for admonishing the “cut and paste” approach to university assignment work. According to Dr Spender, it is just part of the way students learn and “ in fact a new and fast and obviously digital way of synthesising information.”

    Wow. “Cut and paste” is now a “new and fast and obviously digital way of synthesising information.”  Since it has big words and the meaning is unclear, I trust the reader can guess that “synthesizing information” is an Educationist term. It is. It’s what us normal folk call “learning.”

     Seriously, what used to be “cheating” is now “learning.” How can there be any wonder that lies, fraud, and corruption are so dominant in the world today?

     While real academics laugh at the insanity of redefining cheating to be learning, it’s no laughing matter. Administration controls what happens to cheaters, you see, and not faculty:

On two occasions, following discovery of plagiarism, a course coordinator gave the two students involved verbal warnings in the presence of a witness. On the third occasion, the students received a mark of zero for the plagiarised work and formal proceedings were instigated. 

     I’m all for second chances, but after three times (in the same semester!) of being caught cheating, it’s tough for students to say it was just a mistake. Almost certainly, these students were cheating in their other classes just as prodigiously, they just had the misfortune of running into one of the few educators left with any integrity.

     In America, a faculty that caught cheaters like this would be punished. And how did administration in Australia respond to these three time losers? 

The academic who instigated proceedings was then ordered to prepare and mark two new assessment items, a different one for each offender, to replace the one for which the students received zero.

     So, the poor faculty member who caught the cheaters repeatedly is punished, and forced to create new assignments for the cheaters to “do.” No penalty at all for the cheaters. One can only hope the faculty member wasn’t so stupid as to check for cheating again, because I’m sure both students and faculty learned the lesson here.

     The book has more to say:

…where a group of students have been caught cheating red handed and
instead of faculty management pursuing the matter, the academics
concerned were ordered to provide written apologies to the students for
making their lives transiently uncomfortable…

     Again, just more punishment for faculty that catch cheaters. As I’ve said before, faculty in the US get the memo early, “do not catch cheaters.” I imagine as word of the apology spread through the campus, other faculty there got the memo as well.

     I’ve mentioned before that faculty no longer have much control over academics now, and I’ve cited a few cases where administrators have sold degrees (even Ph.D.s) and changed grades without faculty being consulted. Isn’t it neat that today you can become a professional expert simply by getting a rubber stamp from an administrator with no knowledge of the subject? Am I alone in seeing a possible problem here?

     In Australia, this sort of fraud is just getting established:

“I had a student who was permitted to sit the same examination four times. The last attempt was almost a year after the first. On the final attempt I was ordered to mark but not grade the examination. By my count the student failed again but, upon examining their official academic record some time later, it was obvious that someone higher up the chain had awarded them a pass…”

--I too have seen students fail multiple times, only to have an administrator step in to grant that passing grade without faculty input.

     It really won’t be long before an administrator realizes “having a student take a test 4 times is just wasting our time. Past this point, we’ll just grade all the tests ourselves, instead of having unreliable faculty that actually know the subject do it.”

     In a few years, if we start to see the same type of massive, overwhelming everyday fraud and corruption in Australia as we see in the United States, that would go a long way to advancing my conjecture: our best and brightest are being trained in higher education not to study and work their way to success, but to cheat in every way possible in a system that encourages it. What's going to happen when, someday, someone pulls back the curtain and we see just how much of the world is built on lies and illusion?



  1. Why was the test so difficult or subjective that a student couldn't pass it after 4 attempts? I can see how, for example, someone could read all the required books but never manage to write an essay that the grader would deem satisfactory. Or if it was math, the questions could be very difficult and different each time, although the student essentially knew the material. Perhaps the problem was with the evaluation?

    Moreover, attempting the exam 4 times is probably not even supposed to happen, as most people would probably pass or give up sooner. Besides, what is cheating to you could be construed as simply correcting an unusual problem. As a matter of fact, a student who cannot pass after so many attempts may have been cheated by society (out of the opportunity to learn, for example) or may have some personal disadvantage (poor intelligence, for example). Giving the student the passing grade he or she is unable to earn may be the right thing to do.

    1. The attitude that the end justifies the means is one reason why cheating is rampant, particularly when it is aided and abetted by administrators.

    2. I'm not joking. Either the test is unreasonably hard, or it might make sense to have pity on the poor student who has so much perseverance and so little ability. He may not be the sharpest tool in the drawer but he may have what it takes to work hard and be loyal to whatever employer may hire him. It's not unfair to let him get the piece of paper that may give him that chance. He may even be fairly competent in other areas. If the test is what prevents him from at least having a chance, passing him is morally justified. If it is appropriate to show that he is not very good, just give him the minimum passing grade. Nobody would think that a D or a C shows great skills.

    3. Excuse me? If a student is doing well in other areas and does poorly in one course, he or she *deserves* to pass because it's--ahem--morally justified?

      Would you like to have a physician or dentist attend to you who passed courses in that manner? Maybe you'd like to drive over a bridge which was designed by an engineer because that person passed a structural design course on the basis of "Oh, they worked hard"?

      Or would you rather that all standards in education be tossed out altogether because expecting student to comply with them might make them feel bad?

      Sorry, but the real world doesn't work that way.

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    5. What if the course is not part of the major? I don't mind if a doctor, dentist, engineer or architect is not very good at poetry, for example.

    6. By the way, Monica, my exams *weren't* hard--challenging, yes; hard, no.

      I set them up such that a third of the marks were gifts. (Anybody who couldn't get those had no business taking the course.) Another third, one would have to do a bit of work to earn them. The remainder had to be obtained by knowing the material very well.

      If they can't master material that would be essential for them to do their jobs, what sort of employees would they make?

    7. Does it matter whether a course is part of one's area of specialization?

      A physician who can't properly express himself or herself won't have many patients. An engineer who can't analyze a line of poetry will likely have difficulty in reading a set of technical standards.

      Think about it.

    8. And what if the course IS part of the major? What if the student is willing to lie? Should we just toss coins every time and hope it doesn'tkill any one?

      Instead of all the fuzzy thinking, it really makes just to always have integrity.

  2. I had a rather notorious cheating incident while I was teaching.

    I taught a service course to a group of shiftless students and I gave the mid-term exam. The rule of thumb was that the class average had to be 60% and this work-shy bunch ensured that the result was far below that. Of course, the kiddies were all upset about it, though they were stirred up by one of their own.

    He had a reputation for being a disturber, so I was hauled into my department head's office and given a dressing-down for that. Never mind the fact that the little darlings didn't do squat before the exam--*I* made the exam *so* hard, didn't I?

    Their department head, who had the backbone of a marshmallow, decided to call a meeting with the class and me. (He was close to retirement and he didn't want any hassles during his final years.) Guess who he threw to the wolves? (Later, Mr. Disturber claimed something like: "We just want to work with you." Yeah, right.)

    My solution was simple. I cancelled the results of that mid-term and I gave them a take-home exam instead. I knew very well that none of the students had any integrity whatsoever, so by making it take-home, I figured they would collaborate and would end up high scores. I also deliberately made it easy by asking questions on the level of "What is the colour of General Grant's white horse?", so there would have been no excuse for anybody failing it.

    Sure enough, I was right. Just about every exam paper was identical. I could tell that most of them simply copied their answers from some master version because there were few erasures, something one would normally not expect. The result was that the class average was in excess of 90%. Amazing, eh?

    OK, I let the kiddies have their fun and by letting those grades stand, I got them to stay quiet. But, I used those same results as an opportunity to thumb my nose at the department heads in question.

    I sent a memo to mine, and a copy to theirs. In it, I "proudly" proclaimed how well they did and I "dishonoured and disgraced" myself by--ahem--*underestimating* the intellectual capabilities of my students. Mr. Marshmallow chuckled at it and took his lumps like a gentleman.

    My department head, however, took it as an insult, which he was supposed to do. I took umbrage at the fact he should even question my ability as an instructor, particularly since I'd been at that institution for several years. Not once did he give me the benefit of the doubt nor would he even entertain the possibility that I ended up with a lazy bunch of students.

    Incidents like that demonstrated to me that there was little integrity in the system at our institution and that it was all a numbers game, provided that those numbers were favourable not just to that institution but to the administrators concerned.

    1. By the way, I spoke with two of my students after the final exam and I brought up the matter of the mid-term. One of them was clearly brighter than most of them and it bothered me that she would have participated in the cheating.

      Her excuse? She thought the original exam was unfair, so she did it out of a sense of "justice". (Really? Since when is deliberately breaking a law or a regulation justifiable?) Her buddy was equally unrepentant. She let herself off the hook by stating flat out that she hadn't cheated, she wouldn't have passed the course.

      There you have it, folks. The ends *do* justify the means, or so I was told.

    2. If there was a final exam or some other in-class exam later, you could have used the very same questions they supposedly answered so well. Even if you did not change anything, chances are many students wouldn't have been able to do so well.

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  4. Well, perhaps cheating is the ONLY thing students are learning that has any real world value in higher education today. Students quickly learn they are being cheated and gamed and that the real purpose is not learning, but to "get through it" as quickly, cheaply and painlessly as possible, so they are simply taking cues from the administration itself. They are in essence, being trained to be lying, conniving weasels, those are the unspoken values being transmitted from above.

    1. They also learn that they don't have to take responsibility for their actions.

      If someone doesn't like the grade they got, they can simply go over the head of the professor or instructor in question and appeal to that academic's superior. Quite often, that superior (say, a department head) will grant that student his or her wish and give them the grade they demanded. (Been there, suffered for it.)

      I'm reminded of an ex-colleague of mine. He left our institution and took a job at a parallel establishment elsewhere in the country. He told me one day of how he handed out diplomas to graduating students who he had personally caught cheating on a final exam. He was not pleased.

      It's as if whoever taught those courses didn't even exist.