Professors vs. cheaters

Universities Wimp Out on Fighting Cheaters writes Greg Forster on Pajamas Media.  Software makes it easy to catch plagiarists, he says. But the instructor is all alone in deciding what to do about it.

RightWing Prof has advice on how to prevent cheating. First rule: Set clear rules and enforce them. Don’t be wimpy.

About Joanne


  1. I turned in formal paperwork on a plagiarizer to my provost’s office yesterday.

    A student had stolen whole paragraphs, without attribution or quotation marks, from two Wall Street Journal articles.

    When confronted, he denied it. When I handed him his paper and copies of the two articles, with the stolen text highlighted, he began to speak of his grandfather who died the week before.

    During my conversations with them, the student’s advisor and the dean backed my decision for a zero on the paper (This student will fail the course, based on grades alone, anyway).

    We’ll see what happens.

  2. Mr. Forster is overgeneralizing. We file academic dishonesty charges against the student with the Dean of Students office, who handle the procedure. The Dean’s office will contact us and ask what we feel the appropriate punishment should be, and usually follow our lead, although they do not have to.

  3. like rightwingprof, i disagree with the claim that the instructor is “all alone” in deciding what to do. Most profs or lecturers have incredible autonomy, and that’s considered a positive. They can teach how they like, sometimes what they like, and grade how they like, though there are departmental-cultural norms. this is generally preferred to a situation where an instructor has no latitude in such matters. As a lecturer, I had the authority to give a zero to whomever I wished by whatever criteria I had, or demand other recompsnse. I could even flunk a student. re: being “all alone”: I could ask other profs for suggestions based on what they did, and I could take any case to the Council on Academic Performance for academic dishonesty, though I had practically no say in what happened after that point. I didn’t have the authority to kick anyone out of school.

  4. A zillion years ago when I was a grad student teaching calculus, I had a cheater, and I tried to get the university to do something about it, and they didn’t. The problem, according the attorney from the Provost’s office that spoke to me, was that the panel would be mostly students, and they would be against me, and the girl would have a good lawyer provided by her parents, and the attorney didn’t want to proceed. So I dropped it. Then, a couple of years later, I got hassled by someone from the Ombudsman’s office about giving the girl her final grade since the university hadn’t pressed charges. This person didn’t care that the student had cheated, and she made it clear that she would make my life as miserable as possible until this got off her desk, and since I was also graduating and didn’t want any delays (I had a job waiting and didn’t want to lose it because I was suddenly held up for 3 months due to some mysterious “hold” from the library or something), so I gave up and passed the cheater. I’m not sure what the cheater learned from this, but I certainly came away from it with the clear understanding that the university wasn’t that interested.

  5. Many profs have political reasons for wanting to avoid these confrontations. I remember well how my favorite professor or physics took no action against a pair of students (seniors, no less!) who cheated on a takehome test.

    The reason was that, years before, he had accused a student of cheating, and was accused of being a racist in turn. The student was a African-American National Merit Scholar, and even though the professor produced indisputable proof, the adminstration did not back him up, nor did they defend him against the cruel charge of racism, even though he is an extremely kind and liberal individual.

    Other reviewers made the same point: that administrators are mainly interested in keeping their cushy and well-paid positions and not enforcing academic order. Since universities are now run as businesses (with the president being the CEO), this is actually very logical. The canons of academic rigor and morality have little relationship to the laws of profitability: after all, doesn’t the cheater still pay their tuition and fees?

    Consider the example of the Ford Motor Company and the Exploding-Gas Tank Mustangs: Ford’s actuaries calculated that it would be cheaper to pay restitution to the victims rather than recall the faulty vehicles. Likewise, the cost of enforcing academic integrity — including the expulsion of the rowdy and incompetent — is too great, since the job of the university, at least from the president’s perspective, it to maximize profits and play ball with such parasitic entities as the textbook publishers.

  6. At my university, the instructor determines the penalty, up to an F in the course. The student can, of course, appeal. If the instructor has clear evidence of cheating, the appeal is always denied.