cheater cheater.

In order to be a good college cheater, what a student needs most is an unswerving determination to succeed with the least amount of effort.

No successful cheater is hurt (at least in terms of GPA) by a natural inclination to cut corners, avoid the Perkins stacks, or claim that the words in his biology text book are too small to read. A cheater has the uncanny ability to throw ethics by the wayside as he rationalizes why he relies on his classmates and the Internet to figure out the answers to the problem set and write the final term paper.


   "I only did it because everyone else does."


   "I didn't know that's considered plagiarizing."


   "I'm so overwhelmed with stress."


   "I'll never get into med school if I don't do well on this test."


   An emotional or psychological disorder is helpful, if it can be selectively applied by the cheater as an excuse for his moral malfeasance. Some critical lack of personal integrity on account of parental neglect, which can never fully be overcome; a consuming conviction that the college degree is to be viewed as a purchasable item--to the tune of $160,000--and should be collected upon payment with the highest returns (i.e. a 4.0 GPA) by any means possible; or belligerent, defensive outrage over the competitive nature of students in elite academic institutions such as Duke that drives even the morally sound to resort to all these are promising signs.

Cheating may or may not come as easily for the well-principled scholar, but insofar as opportunity or ignorance or laziness bend even the purest at heart toward sin, they have the potential, under the right conditions (a university community with questionable integrity or an ineffective honor code), to join the rest of the 75 percent of undergraduates across the country who cheat. Yes, according to the most recent, comprehensive 1999 survey of students on 21 campuses nationwide, three out of every four of us admitted to have cheated. "I know a guy who writes his in-classes essay exams before the test and then slips out the pre-written essay during the exam and uses it."  

   "I've asked friends to look over my French essays before I turn them in. It's not even going to guarantee you an A. It's just an extra precaution."  

   "I have friends who tape answers to the inside of water bottle labels."  

   "If you haven't gotten caught, what's to stop you?"  

   By the nature of the cheater's endeavors, it is important that he learn to identify those classes in which it is easiest to cheat--large lectures in the economics or biology departments, preferably. Often one finds that students taking mathematics and computer science classes are more willing to engage in unauthorized collaboration as they succumb to the realization that their grades are going to be screwed, one way or another. This is not to deny that it is any less difficult to cut corners in humanities or social science classes--all it takes is a will to cheat.  

   "If you want to cheat, you definitely can," a senior says. "Duke kids are smart. They can figure out how to not get caught."  

   "Simply the sheer amount of work here can compel you to cheat," another student says. "You've got four things due in one day and you just feel as if you're trapped."  

   "It's not easy to get caught," a junior says. "I've certainly never heard of someone getting caught."  

   The best way a cheater can find to keep his surreptitious cheating antics under wraps is to copy off his friends. Students, at least 98 percent of those at Duke who participated in the 1999 study, say they did not report classmates they knew had cheated during a test or exam while in college.  

   This culture of non-reporting at Duke manages to work to the best of the cheater's advantage. One student says she even helps her friend cheat during in-class exams.  

   "I have a friend who gets panic attacks during exams in my class," she says. "I feel bad and so do my friends. So I let him sit next to me during the test and he copies my multiple choice answers. If I finish a page before he does, I just double-check my answers while he gets the rest of them down."  

   In other cases, friends don't even realize they've helped someone cheat on a serious assignment until it's too late.  

   "A friend of mine asked me for some help in one of her engineering classes that I took a couple semesters ago," a student says. "I helped her out and later realized it was a quiz question." Our community teaches none of its false lessons more carefully than that it is unnecessary to treat cheaters with distaste or resentment. The concepts of morality and fairness, it seems, have managed to skip over the majority of students at Duke--concepts that Emory University primatologists Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal reported monkeys are even capable of discerning.  

   Chimpanzees in one study expressed immediate outrage at instances they viewed as being unfair, going so far as attacking the morally deficient members of the group. In another study, capuchin monkeys were trained to take pebbles from researchers and if the monkeys gave the pebbles back, they were rewarded with either cucumbers or grapes, the latter being the tastier reward. The majority of the monkeys who were offered cucumbers apparently understood that the exchange was unfair--some threw the cucumbers at the researchers, others simply refused to give the pebbles back. These primates seemed to be capable of moral judgments, and possessed a sense of fairness and a sense of disgust and anger at cheaters, unlike many Duke undergraduates.  

   "You don't want people to say, 'Why are you ratting on people? Why are you turning them in?'" a student explains.  

   "I would just feel bad," a female undergraduate says. "Turning someone in doesn't seem right somehow. I don't know why I feel that way."  

   "My friends aren't going to report me," a sophomore says. "They're too afraid that they've done something that someone else could turn them in for, to do anything about me."  

   "It is maybe not so much that [cheaters] feel like they want to, but that they have to, to be able to do what they want in the future--to get that job, that paycheck, that big name grad school," another student elaborates.  

   It's hard to be a good cheater and a guiltless person--and students acknowledge this. Duke cheaters are, more likely than not, fully able to discern right from wrong, good from bad. But when you start freaking out at 4 a.m., the night before a major exam and an assignment is due at 9 a.m., the lure of a crip sheet or your best friend's completed problem set can convince even those at the pinnacle of Kohlberg's stages of moral reasoning to resort to cheating.  

   "I think it's pretty clear to students that cheating in the classroom is bad and plagiarism is bad," Assistant Dean for Judicial Affairs Stephen Bryan says. "But does it mean that students don't? Probably not."  

   With luck, however, cheaters may go to a school where the student body embraces their lack of morals and more importantly, their professors will be similarly prone to turning a blind eye when cheating occurs in their classes. Such has been the case, at least for Duke.  

   "Cheating at Duke is definitely common," one professor says. "Everyone else is doing it. Older students say they know people who have done it. How can you blame them? It's been a part of the academic culture for 40 or 50 years."  

   "Students see college as a game to win," says another professor. "They don't see it as the real world. Students are here for grades, not learning. Grades are the stepping stone for careers, and students are solely interested in coming out credentialed."  

   A professor at Duke says he's got an exam coming up and that he can guarantee that no less than 20 people will be cheating. But he says he's never followed through on a case.  

   "It's hard to prove that people have cheated," the professor concedes. "It's hard to get anyone on academic dishonesty. There's a low risk of getting caught--the bigger the class, the lesser the risk."  

   In a 2001 faculty survey on Duke undergraduate professors' perception of academic integrity, faculty noted strong doubts concerning the effort that their colleagues place on identifying dishonest students. When asked if faculty members tried hard to detect cheaters, 52 percent of the respondents said they did not think so and another 40 percent were uncertain. In the same survey, professors were given a brief scenario in which a student of theirs had cheated on a major exam or assignment; only 22 percent of the respondents said they would report the student to a Dean or disciplinary committee. In response to the question, "Do you think some faculty at Duke ignores incidents of cheating in their courses? If so, why?" they wrote:  

   "Yes. Reluctance to become embroiled in an unpleasant and time-consuming affair."  

   "They want to avoid appearing before the Judicial Board."  

   "Too much hassle."  

   "Because it can be highly unpleasant, especially with the student's parents."  

   "My colleagues all say things like, 'They only hurt themselves,' and 'I didn't go to grad school to be a policeman."  

   Failure and its consequences are always risk factors implicit in committing the act of cheating. Duke does, after all, have a system of punishments in place for students who egregiously violate the Community Standard, in which the convicted can face upwards of two semesters of suspension--or even expulsion. Some students at Duke say they've thought about cheating, but cite a fear of being caught as the reason why they continue to balk.  

   "Everyone has at least thought about cheating--I've thought about it too," says a lone student studying in the Perk on a Saturday night. "But I just have bad luck with these things. I'd be the one who inevitably gets caught."  

   "I was doing really badly even though I knew the info and worked hard," says a junior who had considered cheating in her organic chemistry class. "It was a passing thought--like, 'Wouldn't that be nice if it were that easy.'"  

   The majority of Duke professors on the other hand, find the severity of penalties for cheating to be too low. Professors in the 2001 survey sought stricter punishments as well as funds for graduate students (a.k.a. cheating sleuths) to check for plagiarism:  


   "Sentences too lenient. Athletes get special treatment."  

   "Although I personally have not experienced the Judi Board, I have colleages who have, often with shockingly disappointing results that shake my confidence in the process. I have also seen one A&S dean take an entirely unprofessional role in grading that makes me reluctant to depend on the admin."  

   But current and future Duke cheaters need not worry; zero-tolerance policies will likely never go into effect at Duke. The administration adheres to another school of thought--led by founder and President of the Center for Academic Integrity Donald McCabe, who says he is not so sure a one-strike-and-you're-out policy is the way to go. It may be the most efficient and possibly the easiest solution to the problem of cheating, McCabe says, but certainly not the best one.  

   "If the objective is simply to reduce cheating--by all means, increase the number of proctors during an exam, pass out multiple versions of tests--this may not fully eliminate the prevalence of cheating, but it will cut down the number of cheaters dramatically," he says. "But this creates an environment of mistrust and lack of respect."  

   The University is advocating an alternative to systematically rooting out and punishing cheaters, which has the potential to be more dangerous to the future sustainability of cheating at Duke: educating and promoting the ethical component of integrity.  

   "It's not just a matter of enforcement, it's a matter of education--helping each other realize that we want this for Duke," says Associate Dean for Judicial Affairs Kacie Wallace. "The focus is not on catching people but maintaining the integrity of the community and how to do that in partnership. It's not going to happen alone. Everything we do, we need to talk about, think about, challenge each other and address it when something happens."  

   Duke's implementation of an honor code in 1993 was the first step toward creating a community of integrity. National surveys McCabe has authored, conducted in 1990, 1995 and 1999 and covering over 12,000 students and 24 campuses, indicate that academic honor codes can reduce cheating. His studies suggest that cheating on campuses with honor codes is one-third to one-half lower than on campuses without honor codes.  

   "If people join a community where honor is expected and is the universal norm, this will influence their own thinking and expectations," says President Nan Keohane. "And they are more like to adhere to the norms.... This is what we are trying to establish." The trouble for Duke cheaters is that there exist students who have managed to not yet fully surrender their personal integrity--and the ranks of those already adhering to the Community Standard may be growing. Amid those students willing to forsake principles for higher grades are the courageous few who are willing to step up and tell this--even on the record--to the rest of the Duke community.  

    "Honor is not about receiving anything in return, even thanks," says sophomore and West Campus At-Large Representative of Campus Council Jamie Campbell. "Honor isn't even about acknowledgement. Honor should exist for its own sake.... Honor isn't doing your duty because you will be punished if you don't. Rather, honor is accepting the responsibility presented to you, and performing thanklessly for the sake of trust."  

   The prevalence of cheating, however, is not going to magically disappear anytime soon. Administrators willingly admit that establishing this intangible culture of integrity is easier said than done--and clearly, it hasn't been established yet.  

   "It's hard to say what's lacking in the current Duke community," Wallace says. "Over time, there's a culture at Duke that has developed among some students and classes that cheating is just accepted as part of the Duke experience.... Cheating will continue to be an issue 10 and 20 years from now. Universities are such transient places--every year we need to start fresh with each incoming class, but hopefully over time, the culture will be built so that there are more environmental factors that support a culture of integrity."  

   President of the CAI Nina Dulin-Mallory acknowledges that without a continuous effort to promote a culture of integrity, there exists the potential for nothing to amount of the Community Standard. "The culture of a university is always in some kind of flux," she says. "What is necessary is a tradition of the standard, code, creed, the ongoing work at awareness and education. Otherwise an honor code sits there as an idea but without the energy of making students more aware, it becomes just like any other rule."  

   Historically, Duke has had a tenuous relationship with establishing a code of honor. As early as 1957 the Duke Women's Student Government Association proposed, unsuccessfully, the implementation of an honor code. In 1980, President Terry Sanford formed the President's Honor Council, which sought to encourage a discussion on what honor entails. A full-fledged Honor Code finally passed, though by a narrow margin, in 1993, but the disappointing student and faculty surveys in 1999 and 2001 made it clear that the Code was not being taken seriously. It has since been replaced by the Community Standard effective this past 2003-2004 school year, and the preliminary data of a new effort by the Judicial Council to determine the state of cheating at Duke are hardly optimistic. Faculty members and undergraduates are facilitating focus groups over dinner and discussing students' opinions and feedback on the freshly unveiled Community Standard.  

   "The results so far have been very disappointing," says Ashley Joyce, vice chair of the judicial council and Benjamin Newton Duke scholar who attended the first focus group dinner with the junior class. "After the dinner I was upset, depressed and disappointed."  

   In spite of valiant attempts to inform students and professors about the Community Standard, both continue to have trouble identifying what it is.  

   One student confessed to never having read the Community Standard despite her professor requiring all students to attach a signed copy with all their graded assignments.  

   "I just print it out and sign it without reading it," she says. A professor displays two identical assignments from separate students in an interview to prove that cheating continues to thrive, and genuinely asks, "It is it really worth it to turn them in?"  

   A sophomore laughs when asked whether Duke students will ever be willing to fully support a culture of integrity. "You've got to be kidding me. Nobody's gonna stop cheating."


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