Monday, December 17, 2007

Are You Sure It's Cheating If I Copy Someone Else's Post?

Another semester draws to a close, and this time, I had three cheaters and a plagiarist. Firsts for me, and the whole experience was pretty traumatic. I have discovered there are basically two responses to cheating: "Fail 'em, they knew better," and "Oooooh, that's hard, what's going to happen to them if they fail?"

I, it turns out, am in the second camp. My syllabuses are quite clear that cheating in an ethics class, no matter how trivial the occasion, is an automatic fail, because you have clearly demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the material by cheating. But when faced with actual cheaters (including my plagiarist), I started worrying about what would happen to them if they flunked -- would they flunk out? Could they make up the hours? Would it mess up their program?

I know, I know, it's people like me who perpetuate a system where students think they can get away with it. Except really I don't, because I did fail them, I just felt really agonized about it. And in the end, I felt angry about it. Because, yes, these students did it to themselves. They knew better. They made the choice to cheat knowing the consequences (and of my three "plain" cheaters, all three of them probably would have passed without cheating!), and now they suffer the consequences they chose. (It's almost Kantian.)

But what makes it hard for me (and I suspect some of them realize this, at least intuitively, and this is why they think they can get away with it) is that even though they did it and they made the choice, I am the one who has to put that big fat "F" in the system and the academic misconduct report in their file. They are putting ME in the position of being the executioner, and I absolutely hate it.

I might actually be a little less offended if they'd cheated in a smart way -- do they really think I won't notice when they've been turning in written work all semester and suddenly the final paper is in an entirely different style and tone and about three giant leaps up in writing proficiency? -- but I guess if they were willing to put in that kind of work, they wouldn't have cheated in the first place. It's like, not only did they cheat, but they apparently think I'm too dumb to catch tricks a toddler would use: "Missing cake? What cake? Of course I didn't eat any cake, despite the fact that my breathe reeks of cake and there's cake mashed all over my face. The cake must have spontaneously combusted!"


Ms. PH said...

Seriously, cheating for an Ethics class? While I might feel bad for failing kids who cheated in a Chemistry class (for example), I would have no bad feelings for kids who cheated in Ethics. They obviously missed the point of the class.

(Not that Chemistry is harder than Ethics, I'm just saying . . . seriously, people.)

ThtreLady said...

Oh that sucks. But I do have to say that cheating an Ethics class.. definitely a fail. Talk about missing a point completely. Still, I wouldn't want to put that F in the books. Ugly and yucky - you have my sympathy.

Mary H. said...

CHEATING!!!!! in an ETHICS!!!!! class! Jesus wept.

crip1965 said...

Good for you! I'm sorry you agonized a bit.
The last thing I want t see in the future when I'm relying on them to provide leadership is a college graduate who breezed through an ethics class by cheating.

This is where the seeds of great harm such as Enron are planted.

Anonymous said...

Does ICC have a policy of expulsion for cheating/plagiarism? Some schools do.


Jennifer said...

That had to be hard. It's the kind of thing that in theory it's easy to say "let 'em hang" but to be the real life executioner...
Wait, maybe comparing you to the hangman isn't the best way to make you feel better?
Let me start over, the cliche is true, you did what you had to do, so while it was difficult, I hope you feel peaceful about it now.

Tony said...

Eyebrows... To say that you agonized over failing them but in the end did shows that you are nothing but human. It also shows that you gave them the consequences that they deserved and you did so in good conscience. Good for you!

JC said...

I teach an ethics class at ISU and had the same problem a few semesters ago. I was threatened with a lawsuit against me and the university for failing a student for cheating, even though a university policy and my own syllabus clearly spelled out the consequences for such a poor choice. While I knew that I did what I thougt was best in my situation, I agonized for a LONG time. I can totally understand your frustration!! Hang in there!