As reported by Bloomberg's Michael McDonald (no, not that one), Dartmouth College recently found itself embroiled in a cheating scandal involving 64 students in -- you couldn't make this up -- a sports ethics class. The course, which was designed to appeal to student athletes, had 300 enrolled students when the cheating occurred. That means 21% of the class was caught cheating. Who knows if the actual number was higher.
McDonald notes that Dartmouth's headache echoes recent cases at Harvard and the University of North Carolina:
"Harvard University investigated 125 students in 2012 for inappropriate collaboration on a take-home final exam in a U.S. government course. Half were told to withdraw for a year, including the senior co-captains of the basketball team, while the rest were given probation.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last year detailed an academic fraud that spanned 18 years and made it easier for student athletes to maintain eligibility to play. An independent investigation found that 3,100 students took so-called paper classes with no faculty involvement or class attendance."
McDonald then quotes Aine Donovan, the director of Dartmouth's ethics institution, who blames changing cultural values for the uptick in cheating. She blames the "special snowflake" effect in which young people are brought up to think of themselves as special, unique, and "the best." Traits such as self-regulation and integrity are being left by the wayside because society no longer values them.
On the surface, Donovan's words come off a little bit like a "kids these days" rant, but there's likely some truth within her indictment of society. Humor me for a second and think on the following question: "Why do we punish cheaters?" Your answer to that question says a lot about your values -- how you feel about fairness, equality, ability, etc. For some, cheating is a categorical taboo. For others, there's a thin line between cheating and "getting ahead."
My guess is that far too many folks would probably answer the above question with "because cheating is wrong." But why is it wrong? We as a society seem to have lost this understanding. We've vilified transgressors for so long that we've entered evaluative autopilot. And thus, we cheat because we either:
1. don't understand why it's wrong
2. don't care that it's wrong
3. don't think that it's wrong
And until society as a whole solidifies its opinion on cheating we're not likely to see any of these big stories go away.
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