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I Can't Get a C

Monday, May. 9, 2011

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Melissa is a pre-med student at a large university. She prefers taking classes that relate directly to her emphasis. However, Melissa knows that she has to take general education requirements to graduate. She decides to take "An Introduction to Art History," an easy class, to balance out the hard science classes she must take this quarter.

It turns out that Art History has weekly homework assignments--nothing difficult, but Melissa never seems to have time to do them. She reasons that she shouldn't waste her energy on class content that she will never use. Still, the teacher does grade the homework and Melissa cannot afford do poorly in the class because medical schools will care about her GPA. She ends up copying a classmate's homework on a weekly basis. Does Melissa really need to spend time on this gen-ed when she has more important classes to worry about?

Here are some resources that may help:

Cheating in Academic Institutions: A Decade of Research

Fundamental Values Project--Center for Academic Integrity

A Framework for Ethical Decision Making



Photo by Dany Sakugawa available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License.

Comments Comments

Mikaila Read said on May 9, 2011
Melissa's nameless friend, whom she copies homework from weekly, is the root of Melissa's immoral behavior. Perhaps, cheating itself could be determined ethical from some other standpoint, but the using of an individual (in this case, Melissa's friend) to achieve one's own end (Melissa's) cannot. According to Kantian ethics, there are two types of beings: subjects and objects. Humans are representative of subjects as they have rational thought, self-awareness, and self-interests/motivations. Now, because subjects have these autonomous characteristics, they also have a greater intrinsic value than objects. Inanimate or subservient things are considered objects as they lack the already outlined characteristics of subjects. This consequently devalues them, at least to the extent of being less than subjects. To put it simply and bluntly, a person is more valuable than a toaster. Now, because Melissa's friend qualifies as an autonomous and valuable subject, she likewise ought to be treated as one, but when Melissa copies her friend's homework, she is treating her as an object. She is using her to achieve her own end, in the same way that one might utilize a toaster to make breakfast. This behavior is unethical. Even if her friend were willing to allow herself to be used as an object, that willingness does not somehow negate the fact that she is being used. Furthermore, at the very least, Melissa is deliberately violating the university's code of academic integrity. Since the university requires certain gen-ed classes, she ought to complete them in her own efforts regardless of how she ranks them in importance. Her behavior gives grounds for expulsion if not the stain of immorality - Like - 26 people like this.
Tjames said on May 10, 2011
Very interesting to think of devaluing a person when you utilize their talents for immoral or unethical purposes. - Like
Cameron Tow said on May 10, 2011
Melissa needs to do her own homework. Copying everything is not only cheating, but it is preventing her from learning the material as well. Even though she may get full credit for the assignments, she's unlikely to remember or understand the answers later. When Melissa goes to study for the final, she is going to realize that she has a lot of holes in her knowledge that she now needs to fill in. Also, if Melissa only puts value on her pre-med classes, she will be clueless about anything around her that does not relate to biology or chemistry. Gen-ed classes may seem trivial, but the university requires them for a reason. If they were not applicable to living a functional, educated life, the university would not waste the professors' time or yours by making you take them. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Deepti Shenoy said on May 11, 2011
Melissa is cheating herself out of the opportunity to explore different subjects and see where her interests lie. A class that seems like it has nothing whatsoever to do with your major sometimes ends up giving you a different perspective on the subjects that are important to you. Also, no matter how small an assignment is, it reflects on you. If you copy someone else's homework, you have no control over its quality. Even if Melissa never gets caught, does she really want to be constantly associated with work that may not represent her well? And finally, Melissa has to ask herself: Am I willing to be the kind of person who cheats to get ahead? What kind of doctor-what kind of person-will she be if she's willing to answer that with a yes? - Like - 1 person likes this.
Miriam Schulman said on May 12, 2011
While Melissa may think her dishonesty will be confined to "unimportant" classes, the truth is, cheating is habit-forming. Several studies show that academic misconduct in one course is a good predictor of academic misconduct in another. Melissa might find it particularly significant that the best predictor of cheating in medical school is having cheated previously in one's academic career. Not only that, misconduct in the classroom is also a predictor of misconduct on the job. Sarath Nonis and Cathy Owens Swift surveyed 1,051 graduate and business students at six universities about cheating in the workplace. They write, "Once an individual forms the attitude that cheating is acceptable behavior, he or she is likely to use this behavior, not only in the educational arena but also in other areas." And so we have reports of police and fire fighters cheating on exams for promotion, doctors cheating on medical licensing exams, student pilots cheating on emergency procedures tests. I'm sure Melissa wouldn't want to have to rely on one of these cheaters. And, if Melissa keeps copying someone else's homework, I wouldn't want to rely on her. - Like
Kyle Fletcher said on May 12, 2011
As an undergraduate, I have been in this exact situation many times in the recent past. I have been stuck deciding whether or not I should do the assigned homework for a class that I know will not be vital to my degree. I have even had others give me their homework to copy if I wanted it as a sign of friendship. Given my many encounters with this scenario, I have come to the conclusion that cheating would, in fact, be unethical and is the wrong thing to do. When deciding how one should act, we must first decide what will lead us to that decision. What are the rules that constrict our actions? What is the basic ethical framework we subscribe to, and how does it determine our potential actions? After some thought, I decided that all three major frameworks would argue against cheating on the test. A system incorporating Virtue ethics would claim that cheating revealed in Melissa a negative character trait, as honesty is considered virtuous under nearly all conceptions of virtue. The deontologist nearly always operates under some conception of the good as a guiding source or correctness in action. If we do not take honesty as a good prima facie, then we can see a Kantian conception of good via his categorical imperative. If everyone cheated, then nobody would learn anything, thus defeating the purpose of homework. In fact, the only ethical theory that does not immediately rule out cheating is consequentialism, but this system must take into account the potential goods and bads of an action, as well as the probability of these potentials. In this case, the possibility of being found out for cheating would tarnish the students record greatly, leading to an F in the class and a potential expulsion from the University. This is simply not worth the difference between an A and a B or a B and a C in terms of the impact it would have on Melissa's GPA. One must always examine complex ethical actions carefully before acting on them. It is clear to me that this requires some understanding of the underlying frameworks involved in ethical decision making. In every major framework, the correct decision for Melissa is not to cheat. The fact that each and every theory agrees on this demonstrates the correctness and absoluteness of this ethical position. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Kati Carson said on May 16, 2011
As tempting as it may be for her to cheat on her homework, it's just not a good idea. If she gets caught, she could get kicked out of school and not even have a chance to go to med school. Even if she doesn't get kicked out, having a note that you cheated on your transcript has to be a greater blemish than a poor grade in Art History. If she doesn't have time to handle it, then she should drop a class. If it's not her forte, then go to office hours or get a tutor. Even with a major in the hard sciences, she should still have room, schedule-wise, for taking the required classes later. - Like
Jed Grimes said on Jan 16, 2014
There is absolutely nothing unethically about copying homework. The point of homework is to learn the material using any resource you can find (like your eighty dollar textbook). Melissa is using another student as a resource. Isn't working together an important skill? There is no point in wasting your time doing the exact same task as your classmate when you could just collaborate. The reason for tests is to see what you know without using any resources. As long as Melissa is scoring well on the exams (without cheating on them), the means by which she learned the material does not matter. - Like - 2 people like this.
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Tags: academic integrity, cheating