Academic Cheaters

You may have heard that the University of North Carolina has been charged with 18 years of cheating. The staff and athletic coaches encouraged student athletes to take “fake classes” in order to get grades that would allow them to keep playing sports and spend their time practicing instead of studying.

This “news” story is not really new – we’ve known for years that athletes are given academic exception. But what is new is the widespread degree of cheating that occurred. Some would say that the degree of cheating has reached extreme levels of immorality.

Doesn’t everyone cheat from time to time? According to the Educational Testing Service, between 75 and 98% of college students admitted having cheated in high school. Cheating increases when rules are ambiguous and when strict supervision is lacking. Although many people will cheat a little, only a few will cheat to the maximum degree possible. In the case of the University of North Carolina, cheating has become a culture.

Self-justification often occurs when people make “immoral” decisions. Individuals rationalize unethical decisions and behaviors in order to maintain a positive view of themselves. For example, students who cheat often feel justified in what they are doing. They cheat because they see others cheat and they think they will be unfairly disadvantaged. The cheaters are getting 100 on the exam, while the non-cheaters may only get 90’s. People tend to act in ways to protect their own self-image, making it likely that unethical behavior is perpetuated.

One could say that moral illness is a condition in which one has so abused their concept of right and wrong for so long, that they rationalize acts of destruction without feelings of remorse. Little rationalizations over a long period of time can grow to become a culture of moral illness, as in the University of North Carolina.

Amy Novotney authored an article “Beat the Cheat” (June 2011, Monitor on Psychology, Vol 42, No.6) in which she says that research indicates that cheating may be associated with dishonesty later in life. “Students who plagiarized in college reported that they viewed themselves as more likely to break rules in the workplace, cheat on spouses and engage in illegal activities . . . High school cheaters are also twice as likely to lie to or deceive their boss and one-and-a-half times more likely to lie to a significant other or cheat on their taxes.”

The Educational Testing Service is campaigning to tackle academic cheating. Cheating undermines integrity and fairness at all levels. They developed a manual to give you the tools and information to develop a program to discourage academic cheating your community. We all benefit when we are held to a high standard of behavior.


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