Cheating in Ethics Class: The Agony and the Irony

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In a disturbing report made recently by The Boston Globe, a cheating scandal has come to light at one of the nation’s top universities. The scandal took place at Dartmouth, in a course called “Sports, Ethics & Religion.” Up to 64 students are accused of cheating by misrepresenting their attendance and participation in class assignments.

The debacle occurred through the use of digital “clickers” assigned to individual students. In the large class of 280, these electronic devices were used to record class attendance, and for students to submit answers to in-class questions. Students were accused of handing off their clickers to other students, who would check in and answer on their behalf. Professor Randall Balmer, chairman of the religion department, opened an inquiry when he noticed a disparity between the number of answers logged and the segment of his class he could actually see and count as physically present.

Balmer is quoted as saying “a level of trust that is so necessary for students and teachers has been betrayed, and I feel sad about that.” After an official inquiry was launched, up to 64 students have been implicated. Some could receive suspension from Dartmouth College, while others may fail or have their grade lowered by a full letter.

This violation of the school honor code represents a betrayal of trust and an erosion of the integrity that is a fundamental part of the educational experience.

The situation laid out in this story is fairly simple, and there is no question that what the students did was wrong. However, an important (and unfortunate) point about how honor “used to be a part of our society” was made by Professor Balmer during an interview about the scandal. As he puts it:

“I think honor no longer is something that has a lot of resonance in society, and I suppose in some ways it’s not surprising that students would want to trade the nebulous notion of honor with what they perceive as some sort of advantage in professional advancement.”

Other recent cheating scandals show that this is not an isolated incident. If so, is our society falling off the ethical beam? Here at we try to drive home the point that we must strive to not let pressure or the desire to get ahead compromise our choices. Discuss as a family what ethics mean to you, and how you can best remain vigilant in the face of any opportunities to betray what you stand for.

To further your discussion of ethics on campus, we recommend our articles “The Honesty Policy at the University of Virginia”, “Debate Over Student’s Religion at UCLA” and “Fraternity’s Racist Chant: A Reminder to be Vigilant.”

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