Administrators have noted an increase in incidents of resume fabrication at Duke in the past several years.
Resume fabrication is characterized as the misrepresentation of information, such as grade point average and previous work experience. The Office of Student Conduct has seen increasing reports of student fabrication incidents in the past five academic years, said Stephen Bryan, associate dean of students and director of OSC —perhaps fueled by the degree of competition found both within in the University and in the job market outside.
There were four reported incidents of resume fabrication in the 2009-10 school year. The following year, there was only one reported incident, but in the past three academic years, rates have spiked—eight incidents were reported in the 2011-12 school year and seven incidents in 2012-13. This academic year has seen eight reported incidents of resume fabrication.
“Anecdotally, it seems like the numbers are increasing,” Bryan said. "In the past couple of years, there have been more cases.”
Bryan said he would speculate that resume fabrication is prevalent at schools with Duke's level of selectivity, though he noted that he is on a national listserv for issues like these and has not read about many incidents.
Duke’s “secretly competitive” nature could be another factor, Bryan said. He noted a “cool factor” that contributes to the stress of students who want to achieve at a high level while appearing effortless.
He added that reported cases of resume fabrication have most commonly been economics majors.
Some might suspect that this increase is due to more stress associated with the job market, said Sue Wasiolek, assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of students.
Bryan added that his guess is that since the 2008 economic crisis, the prevalence of resume fabrication has increased.
“I can only imagine that it is because students are trying to do all that they can to bolster their candidacy,” Wasiolek said.
Wasiolek noted, however, that it is difficult to tell whether the ability to detect incidents of resume fabrication has increased with the use of technology or the number of incidents themselves have increased.
Raising the grade
Bryan noted that most cases pertain to boosting grade point averages on paper.
“It’s usually a GPA issue—it’s easily verifiable and it’s brought to us by a faculty member,” Bryan said.
Bryan added that faculty members usually discover instances of resume fabrication through viewing e-recruiting profiles of students with whom they are working or when students are required to submit their resume for “permission-only” courses.
“This is not a rounding issue,” Bryan said. “Students are stating a GPA that they’ve never been close to having.”
OSC has also seen incidents of students falsifying volunteer opportunities and internships. Bryan noted one incident when two employers were talking and discovered that a candidate reported an internship with one of the employers that he or she had not done.
“These cases are much more difficult to discover and they have come to us serendipitously,” Bryan said, adding that OSC does not randomly pull resumes from e-recruiting.
Employers can compare transcripts versus resumes, Bryan said, noting that it is standard practice that a candidate sends a transcript at some point during the selection process.
Consequences of fabrication
The penalty for students who fabricate information on their resumes varies. Though the smallest changes in numbers are still significant, the greater degree of discrepancy, the more OSC can “infer malintent," Bryan noted. He added that he has heard “excuses of all kinds”—including students who have said that they calculated wrong, that they had included their major GPA, they sent the wrong file and that they used a resume template from another student.
In terms of disciplinary measures, Bryan said that OSC separates the internal falsification—within the University—from external falsification.
“We’ve tended to not suspend when it’s internal, but when a student has used a false resume on e-recruiting or sent it to an employer, we typically suspend for two semesters,” Bryan said.
Sending false information devalues employers’ trust in Duke as an institution, Bryan said.
Bryan added that there have been internal cases that have been reduced to a faculty-student resolution and some external cases have brought down the two semesters to one semester, or probation.
Wasiolek noted that the University has overall had very low rates of recidivism. She said that the process is intended to be “educational,” so that students are learning what they did wrong and changing their behavior.
Bryan said he believes that resume fabrication is underreported and that there are likely many more cases that have not be discovered. He noted that it would be “interesting” to check the information on 25 random resumes.
“We do not actively search for anything,” Bryan said. “But we empower students and when that trust is abused, it is hard to gain back.”
Wasiolek and junior Dominique Beaudry—chair of the Duke University Honor Council executive board—both noted that resume fabrication is a clear violation of the Duke Community Standard and an ongoing byproduct of an ultra-competitive environment.
“The discussion on resume fabrication is interesting because a lot of students see it as a victimless crime… Whereas in reality, not only does it lessen the chances of honest students getting that [job] and perpetuates a false sense of success, but I really have issue with it because it creates unattainable standards,” Beaudry said in an email Sunday.
Beaudry noted that the Honor Council is working to add a First-Year Advisory Council chat about the community standard during Orientation Week and to push faculty to adopt clearer guidelines on the ethics of collaboration.