As one who sees the world through pale-pink glasses, I tend to assume people are honorable, sometimes making stupid or selfish choices, but generally moving through the universe trying to do the right thing as they know it. People who lie, cheat, and steal are the exception, not the norm.
I still believe that, but this week I've had my faith in people's basic goodness rocked just a little bit.
As an adjunct instructor at a major university, I teach two sections of a class in the college of business. Cuts in tax-payer support over many years mean tuition has increased at well over the rate of inflation, and universities across the country find they must pack more students into classrooms, doing more with less. My classrooms are full. When they take exams, the students are nearly shoulder to shoulder, reminding me of the elementary school "lunch room," really metal folding picnic tables in the gym with the little kids pushed together on the benches, butt to butt.
Temptation overtakes some students. Those who are especially competitive for grades or just feeling insecure in their own knowledge may be tempted to let their eyes wander, barely farther than their own papers, to their neighbors' exams.
Last week while grading exams, I found three that all answered a particular question the same way. I number the exam booklets before handing them out, so consecutively numbered exams are taken by people sitting next to each other. Here there were three in a row. All answering the same. All answering in a way I did not frame the material in class. All answering in a way the material was not framed by texts. All the same. All wrong. Wrong the same way.
So what should I do about cheaters? Well, I talked to the dean, discussing the exam papers, which he agreed were just alike. And we discussed policy, protocol. The students are foreign, and they pay a pretty penny for the privilege of studying here. The university needs the high tuition paid by foreign students, and they are actively recruited. Still, cheating is not tolerated. There is an honor code, each exam requires the students to affirm they did not cheat, and the course syllabus must delineate the penalty for cheating.
My first task is to notify each of them and give each an opportunity to explain their answers, and why their answers so closely resemble those of the next two people in their row.
Frankly, I don't care. I have a hard time thinking any answer will do.
Right now I am waiting for them to contact me. Thursday and Friday I'll have to speak with them, if they choose to respond. Unless I am persuaded of innocence (and I am quite skeptical, so that seems a reach) they will get zeros for the exam, and I will file honor code violation forms. In this college, two strikes and you're out; a student generally gets one chance to screw up. The second time, they'll be suspended or thrown out.
Cheating. Does it help? Does getting caught teach a strong lesson? I don't know. I just don't want cheaters in my life, in my class.
Do you have examples of cheaters in your life? If you teach, what happened and how did you deal with it? If you are in another line of work, what happened?
I'm headed for class now, so won't be around until this evening to respond to comments.