Pitts ’18: Let’s be honest about academic dishonesty

According to David L. Jaffe, a professor at Stanford University, academic cheating is defined as “representing someone else’s work as your own”. It can take many forms, including, but not limited to: sharing assignments, paying for completed assignments, and plagiarism.

Cheating is an epidemic that infects learning institutions across the country. In 2013, the Joseph Institute found that of 23,000 high school students, 51% admitted to cheating on an academic test and 74% said that they had copied another peer’s work. The claim that cheating is a widespread issue is certainly valid. 

The act of cheating is often blamed on a character flaw. However, individuals are not born cheaters, so this cannot be the reason why some cheat and others do not; cheating is learned. An individual’s character fabricates and molds through principal times of transition, namely early elementary, high school, and college years. Young children observe and absorb behavioral clues and value-systems from their parents, teachers, and peers that will perpetually guide them throughout their life. Often, students learn that all that matters is to get an ‘A’, to win the race, or to triumph their opponent in a game regardless of the cost. The outcome is put on a pedestal, while the process and beauty of real learning is left behind. 

Despite the actions of many students, there is evidence to show that they know it is wrong. Yet, even knowing that cheating is unethical, many attempt to justify the odious act. With excuses like “the teacher is so awful, I just have to cheat,” students blame professors for their own lack of preparation forgetting that it is, in fact, the student’s job to take responsibility for their own learning, especially in college. 

Others minimize the consequences of plagiarism, claiming that “it’s not a big deal.” These respondents fail to realize that such dishonest acts cheat not only yourself but also your peers and your school. You, presumably, chose to attend college because you wanted to broaden your knowledge and grow as an individual. The ultimate consequence of these actions is a self-inflicted ignominy. 

One excuse strikes me as the most misguided: “I need to get good grades.” A grade is simply a way in which the professor can test a student’s skills on subject matter. To get good grades means that the student understands the content in the class. When you cheat on an examination, neither one of these goals is attained because the ‘grade’ is ultimately a fake one. 

Learning is all about the process. When student-athletes arrive at their sports practice, they are well aware that they need to ‘practice’ their skills in order to master them. Brilliance does not spark overnight. This truth is also applicable to learning in the classroom. If students focus on how well they are doing versus what they are doing, they might do whatever possible to make it look like they are succeeding. Students ought to think about the process of learning as an end in itself, rather than merely as a means to an outcome. 

Aspiring and ambitious scholars venture to colleges and universities to broaden their horizons, seek the unknown, and engage in the greater world of knowledge. So, why do so many insist on disrespecting this opportunity? Why do students skew their ethical judgment by convincing themselves that cheating is okay?

This education is yours for the taking. Academic cheating inflicts an unnecessary amount of damage onto your life. Academic cheating inflicts an unnecessary amount of damage to your education and your future, so I challenge you to be your smart, sincere, and curious selves; enthrall yourselves in the academic world of which you have chosen. Let’s make a pact to be honest and ethical with our actions and ourselves. Let’s move towards replacing this dishonorable conduct with pride and virtuosity.