I am a non-traditional student at a small, private liberal arts university. As you can imagine, I feel somewhat out of place among the 18-20 year old students that roam the hallways. Typically, I enjoy my time in the classroom, but this week, I faced a situation that just pissed me off.
A few days ago, I was sitting in a class waiting for the professor to arrive to administer an exam. The professor was a few minutes late, so I was reviewing my notes one last time and minding my own business. This particular classroom has tables and I sit at the front table near the isle. Rarely do I turn around, so I honestly can’t tell you who else is in the class even after 14 weeks together. Usually, I mind my own business and ignore any insidious conversations I overhear about drunken weekends and “mean” professors, but that day the conversation wasn’t about any of that. It was about cheating.
To be specific, from what I could tell, students from the tables behind and beside me were discussing their cheating techniques. In fact, I’m pretty sure they were passing around a copy of the exam we were about take. They were discussing exactly the height to keep your phone or paper so it wasn’t visible to the professor through the table top and the kick plate (or whatever that thing is I prop my feet on) and how they never take an honest exam.
I was stunned, and at a loss about what to do. I was all at once angry and feeling like a fish out of water. Ethics are kind of a big deal to me. I believe in fairness and justice. I spend hours a day preparing for my classes, as do many of my classmates. We spend time reading the assigned materials, studying for exams, and writing papers. They say it takes 3 hours out of class for every hour in class and I have found that to be true for a lot of my classes, so I do it. School is not the only thing in my life either. I have a herd of sheep and I volunteer at my local humane society and with various other non-profits which all takes a significant amount of time, so this “I didn’t have time” doesn’t hold a lot of water in my book.
The class I’m talking about now requires very little effort. It’s a freshmen level class that requires almost nothing outside of class. Basically if you show up and copy the slides, you’ve got it made. The professor gives a fairly comprehensive study guide and makes every effort to answer questions about the material. This professor wants students to pass. Still, these students felt the need to cheat. The funny thing is, that most of them attend every class. EVERY. SINGLE. CLASS. What they are doing during lectures I don’t know because in that class, if you pay any attention, you can pass with minimum effort. To make matters worse, it’s a multiple choice test. Just by guessing, they could do pretty well, yet they risk a zero and being kicked out to take a shortcut. I really don’t understand it at all.
As I said, I was in an ethical pickle. Did I report the overheard conversations, or just mind my own business? I ended up taking my exam and sending an email later because, like I said, I feel an ethical obligation towards fairness. I know that there are students in that class who struggle to get good grades, as there are in every class, but they do the work and do the best they can — without cheating. In the end, it doesn’t matter what I did or didn’t do, because these students are only hurting themselves. In a few short years, they will be in the real world where cheating can lead to more than a zero and a trip to the dean’s office. It’s true that they probably won’t be taking many multiple choice tests once they leave college, but they will have reports to file and presentations to give or any number of things.
There is one thing they will definitely need for their future that they are obviously lacking – integrity. They will need to be someone others can trust or no amount of education will help them get ahead. Someone who can’t be trusted to take an exam certainly can’t be trusted to manage other people or run a business with any kind of integrity. I hope for their sake that this professor gave a different exam than they were expecting because maybe they will learn that, like we learned from the Donner Party, shortcuts just aren’t worth it.