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Ethical Implications of Cheating

How Can We Explain the Scope of Cheating in College?

A recent survey published by The International Center for Academic Integrity reports alarming results with respect to cheating by students. More than 70,000 students, both graduates and undergraduates, took part in the study that reported  95 percent of the surveyed students admitted to cheating on a test, on homework and/or committing plagiarism. In this blog I look at the reasons for cheating and draw some conclusions from an ethical point of view.

In another study by Eric M. Handerman, a renowned Professor and Head of the Department of Educational Studies at the Ohio State University, most of the 400 surveyed students agreed that it’s permissible to cheat in classes they don’t like much. This is of great concern because taken to its natural conclusion, virtually all students would cheat at some time or another and rationalize it’s acceptable because they don’t like the class or it’s not in their major field, or another rationalization.

Another study carried out by Lindale High School reports that 65.7 percent of those surveyed confessed to having cheated at least once, while 85.9 percent said they saw other students cheat. Moreover, 44.4 percent said it’s acceptable to cheat on homework, but not tests; 16.1 percent said it’s acceptable to cheat on tests or homework; and only 39 percent said it’s not okay to cheat on either. Interestingly, the students admitted that in 44.4 percent of cases teachers failed to detect cheating.

In the United Kingdom, a study was done of the reasons why students were penalized for cheating: 64% unauthorized materials; 19% other reasons; 8% inappropriate materials; 7% disruptive behavior; and 2% plagiarism. As an indication that new forms of cheating are used, the results show that 75 percent of cheating occurred through the use of mobile phones, 21 percent using study guides during the test, and 4 percent other unauthorized materials.

It seems cheating is more common among international students, twice the rate of the domestic students. Some of the international students say that fear and anxiety over grades and test scores, and language difficulties, are reasons for cheating. Cheating

Cheating is wrong on many levels not the least of which is it destroys the level playing field that should exist when students compete for grades. Obviously, those that cheat have a competitive advantage and since cheating is rarely uncovered, students that play by the rules may feel they are being punished for not cheating.

Many in the educational community are still reeling from the college admissions scandal. Some parents attempted to get their kids admitted to some of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. through the back door, side door, and every which way.

Let’s face it. Cheating is endemic to the academic experience today. Some students and parents attempt to explain it as the way people get ahead in society. It could be they are right given that many bankers escaped punishment during the financial recession and others seem to skirt with little or no consequences for their actions.

Ethically, moral relativism is behind the cheating incidents. That is, each student or parent defines what’s right or wrong for themselves/kids in their situation. Situational ethics allows each person to do whatever they feel is right for them – moral to do. The logical conclusion is everyone can cheat so long as they believe it’s right for them to do. Ethical relativism is dangerous because it negates common moral values that should exist in society including honesty, fair treatment and personal responsibility.

Having taught for almost 40 years, I have concluded that widespread cheating occurs because teachers don’t monitor test taking and/or are too lazy to check for cheating on homework and term papers. There are software programs that can make these determinations very quickly. College administrators should push for this kind of monitoring.

Cheating in school may lead to cheating in the workplace. Once a students feels entitled to certain grades, s/he may feel entitled to high performance evaluations. That’s a problem and may lead to a rude ethical awakening when employers don’t bend the rules or ignore violations as seems to occur all too often in our colleges and universities.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 31, 2019. Dr. Mintz recently published a book, Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior, that explains how doing the right thing and being a good person can enhance well-being. The book is available on Amazon. Visit his website, sign up for his newsletter, follow him on Facebook and “Like” his page.