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Cheat Sheet

Thursday, Jun. 21, 2012

The best college student comment on "Cheat Sheet" wins a $200 Amazon gift certificate.  Entries must be received by midnight, August 5.  Finalists are selected by likes, so get your friends to like your comment. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by email in the right hand column) for updates.

Shelby has been studying for the past two weeks for her final in chemistry. Her grade in the class is much lower than it should be, and her father has warned her to improve it or there will be consequences. So declining party invitations, restricting her time with friends, and spending hours in the library, Shelby has done a lot to prepare for this exam.

Come test day, Shelby sits next to a mutual friend of hers that lives on the same floor in their dorm. Talking with her before the test begins, Shelby notices that this friend has hidden a cheat sheet at the top of her backpack.

Ordinarily, Shelby wouldn’t be concerned about it; however, the professor has already announced that he will be grading the test on a strict curve. Even if everyone does really well, the professor will divide up the grades to make sure there’s a limited amount of A’s and B’s. Should Shelby report what she’s seen to the teacher? Should she keep it to herself? What would you do?


A Framework for Ethical Decision Making

Cheating in College is Widespread - But Why?

What Does It Really Mean to Curve Grades?


Photo by Mr_Stein available under a Creative Commons license.

Comments Comments

Brittany Hardy said on Jun 22, 2012
I would report it because not only is cheating unfair for Shelby who has worked so hard in preparation for this test, but it is also unfair to the rest of the class. At my school, if you cheat, your have to have your case reviewed by our Honor Committee. However, there is a twist. If you have knowledge of someone who cheats but do not report him/her, you will have to face the Honor Committee as well. Academic integrity is important in molding us as well-rounded students and individuals for the real world. Shelby should definitely report this person. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Chloe Wilson said on Jun 22, 2012
Personally, I feel that friendship only goes so far, and sometimes self-preservation has to kick in. If I were in Shelby's shoes, I wouldn't hesitate to let the professor know- discreetly, of course. Shelby?s friend is not only being deceitful by supplementing her own knowledge and preparation (or lack thereof) with a ?cheat sheet,? but she is also being incredibly selfish by jeopardizing the grades of all of her classmates. Shelby?s friend is not being a good friend by doing this- so, I think Shelby has every right to level the playing field and tell the professor. If the test weren't graded on a curve, I would probably respond differently. I don't think I would let the professor know if my grade and my classmate?s grades didn't hang in the balance. That?s simply because I?m not a fan of throwing anyone under the bus, and the only person she would be hurting would be herself because 1) she wouldn?t be truly learning the material she is paying to learn, and 2) she would probably be caught eventually. - Like - 3 people like this.
Ann said on Jun 22, 2012
Shelby is definitely facing a tough situation because there are two major factors at play. One factor involves her personal morals and values which goes against cheating. The other factor is probably not wanting to be branded a "tattle-tale". Most universities employ an "Honor Code." The University I attend enforces such a code where students must pledge on any written work that they have not received or given aid on an exam. All students are expected to uphold this honor code and to report anything that relates to it. Shelby should definitely report the student and the cheat sheet to her instructor. No student should be able to have an unfair advantage over others. The difficult factor that Shelby must deal with is announcing the fact that this "mutual friend" has such a cheat sheet. Many people don't want to be branded with the name "tattle tale" but there are ways to report an incident without causing a huge commotion such as asking to speak with an instructor outside of the classroom or giving the teacher a note prior to taking the test. If Shelby does feel like she is still unsure of what she should do, Shelby should think of what would happen to an individual who cheats in the real world outside of school. Take the business world for example. One person's actions can affect tens, hundreds and thousands of other people. Think of Wall Street and the Fannie Mae scandals that were widely broadcasted. Cheating creates an unfair balance that leaves others at a disadvantage. Additionally, many schools, like my own, have an Honor Committee where reported offenses go to "trial" which is held within the school. The Honor Committee consists of specially chosen University students who decide the outcome of situations like the one Shelby was in. - Like - 5 people like this.
Julie said on Jun 22, 2012
This is my first year at a University. The teachers are very strict and the students are very competitive. At my high school, I was one of the brightest students and was the Valedictorian my Senior Year. When I started my first year of college, I was in for a rude awakening. The workload was doubled and the amount of information that we had to take in was just overwhelming. Many students feel pressured and are definitely tempted to find ways to gain an unfair advantage but it is the duty of the students to uphold the standards of our university. At orientation, we were given a speech about the importance of "Honor" and to uphold that standard. I see life as a forever-long game that constantly tests our morals and values. Situations like these definitely put us to the test, literally and figuratively. Consequently, I would advise Shelby to report the situation immediately. If she does not report the incident, this situation will definitely haunt her and her grade could suffer as a result of the mutual friend's immoral advantage. It also seems as though the "cheater" has either done this before or has simply not been caught. Either way, that person needs to know that cheating is never right and they will never know how to confront difficult situations if they try to simply find an easy way out. This will be their wake-up call. - Like - 3 people like this.
Jeremy Geist said on Jul 18, 2012
This question complicates the situation due to the situation Shelby is in. On one hand, reporting the friend would save her grades and get her out of trouble with her parents, but it would get her friend in trouble herself and possibly even expelled. On the other hand, not reporting her friend would not only make the class more difficult for herself, it would also make it more difficult for everyone else in the class. Because so many other people would be affected by this decision, the correct choice would be to report her friend, but I realize that in real life these decisions are often complicated by the guilt of betraying someone close to you. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Emmy said on Jul 19, 2012
she should weigh her options carefully. In case she is to report her friend, will the the professor look the other way and lift up Shelby's grades in case she failed to make the pass-mark?? In this case, she should just keep quiet or join her friend in cheating! - Like - 1 person likes this.
James said on Jul 19, 2012
"Ordinarily, Shelby wouldn?t be concerned about it; however, the professor has already announced that he will be grading the test on a strict curve. Even if everyone does really well, the professor will divide up the grades to make sure there?s a limited amount of A?s and B?s." That grading scheme is completely ridiculous. That is not grading on a curve, that is altering grades for the sake of limiting the number of students who can pass the class. Grading on a curve would be setting the highest grade of all the students(let's say a 3.7) as a 4.0, therefore a 3.6 would be closer to a 3.9. What this professor is doing, is limiting how many students can possibly pass the class. He is essentially saying, "Only the top X test scores will be A's, the next highest X scores will be B's, the rest of you automatically fail." By this method, the whole class could pass with flying colors, yet only the top X students would actually receive passing grades. That is nonsense. You limit the number of people who can win a game or a race, not who passes a class. As an educator, your goal should be to help as many of your students succeed and learn as possible. This grading scheme seems to go against that idea 100%. - Like - 2 people like this.
James said on Jul 19, 2012
^^^So in retrospect, she should tear up the test, flip the Prof. the bird, and head straight to the Dean. - Like - 2 people like this.
Catherine said on Jul 21, 2012
Reporting the friend immediately would be an ethical mistake. First of all, the 'cheat sheet' may be just a study sheet; Shelby has no proof that her friend will actually use it to cheat with, only a (perhaps well based) suspicion. Second of all, Shelby should consider the effect of this on her friend; the consequences of being caught cheating are serious. If the friend really is a friend, the ethical thing for Shelby to do is to confront her about the cheat sheet. Ideally, the friend will be convinced not to cheat; no unethical acts will be taken, and no punishment will be necessary. Hopefully, Shelby need only remind the friend of the consequences of cheating as well as its obviously immoral nature-- it will hurt Shelby if her friend cheats. If the friend cannot be convinced to leave the cheat sheet behind, then Shelby should discretely inform the professor that the friend may attempt to use the cheatsheet. Obviously, the friend may no longer be a friend afterwards, but a friend who cheats at your expense isn't a friend worth keeping. Shelby has no obligation to let someone take advantage of her and the rest of the class through the unethical means of cheating; however, she also needs to consider the effects of reporting cheating on her friend and give the friend the chance to do the right thing first. - Like
Liz W said on Jul 23, 2012
I would be extremely frustrated and upset, and would probably send an email to the professor after the test alerting him to the situation. Then I would just have to take the test, hoping that all the study time I put in was enough to beat a cheatsheet. - Like
Benjamin Jones said on Jul 26, 2012
As a student at the University of Florida, a member of our Student Conduct Committee, and an employee in our Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution department, this situation with Shelby and her mutual friend is something that I see far too often. As a member of our great SCCR staff, I understand the importance of academic integrity and I understand the exact impact that one isolated incidence of cheating can have on the entire community. In this situation, I would report the incidence because I know that academic dishonesty can have a very strong ripple effect. To begin with, the most obvious way this incident influences the community is in terms of grades. With a student cheating his/her way to the top, especially in a class that grades based on a curve, the repercussions of just one inflated score due to academic dishonesty can be huge. There is, and never will be, a reason why you have the right to cheat on an assignment or exam, while other students have to spend hours of their time studying and working to the best of their ability. Grades are supposed to be the combined measurement of a student?s comprehension and effort in a class, not the combined effort of their cheating and dishonesty. Secondly, many students don?t realize that one undeserved grade due to academic dishonesty actually impacts everyone?s degree at that institution. As a student at the University of Florida, I want my degree to be a representation of my hard work and intelligence. If a college degree is supposed to represent these two ideas, then a degree earned through cheating and dishonesty only serves to undermine and devalue those who hold degrees earned through honorable means. If my degree is equal to that of someone who doesn?t show academic integrity, is my degree worth anything at all? Third, if Shelby and her companions are future graduate and professional students, then the cheating mutual friend has now got a leg up on the competition by unfairly inflating her GPA. Due to this, more deserving students who have worked for four years to receive their education will now have to sit and watch as academically dishonest students take their places in higher education. Do we want people who lack integrity to build our bridges, to heal our sick, or to run our country? The fact of the situation is that college is not only a test of being a student, but is also a test of being a human. If students are showing dishonesty, a lack of integrity, and a lack of respect for hard work, then in the real world what are they going to become? As a conduct process, we do not seek to punish those who show a lack of moral fibers. We do not seek to prevent people from receiving degrees, only letting the absolutely flawless students receive a higher education. No, as a conduct process we only seek to be given the opportunity to catch the dishonesty while it exists only in academic form, so that we can not only turn the accused student into a better scholar, but also into a better human. After all, we are not all scholars, but we are all human. - Like - 15 people like this.
Anon said on Aug 1, 2012
Some people are epic at writing for days without saying much of anything. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Timothy Hsiao said on Aug 2, 2012
The fact that "ordinarily, Shelby wouldn?t be concerned about it" reveals quite a bit about her own character. She isn't concerned about doing what's *right*, but with whatever is in her own self-interest. If the morally right action happens to correspond with her self-interest, then she is only doing it on accident -- not because its the right thing to do. So assuming that it would be right to inform her instructor, the first thing we can already conclude is that *even if* Shelby does the right thing, we should not consider her praiseworthy for doing it. Kant pointed out a long time ago that there is a difference between acting out of a duty and acting in accordance with a duty. It is not enough that her action correspond to what is right. <paragraph-break> But is she obliged to report her friend's cheating? The answer, I think, is that she is. Shelby is morally obliged to report her friend's wrongdoing *regardless* of whatever benefits or harms she may incur as a result. Although it is a legitimate harm that may follow, the wrongness of her friend's cheating lies not in the fact that Shelby's grade may be hurt. The wrongness of cheating lies simply in the fact that that one attempts to take what one does not deserve with that which one does not have. It is both an act of theft and a corruption of justice. <paragraph-break> Of course, this all sounds nice, but would I be willing to live what I say? Simply put: yes. The fact that I face a potential harm might make it easier to do, but this is something I would do chiefly because it is the right thing to do. Acting morally is a disposition that is cultivated and reinforced over time by habitually doing what is right. It is not simply doing what is right when it benefits you -- if anything, that is the exact opposite of proper action. - Like - 3 people like this.
Nasiha said on Aug 3, 2012
Shelby should report it to the teacher and not keep it to herself, for several reasons (based on ?A Framework for Thinking Ethically?). 1. According to the utilitarian approach, Shelby should think about what would result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. By letting her friend cheat, she is allowing the greatest good to diminish because the curve will be distorted as a result, affecting a lot of students. Though it might hurt her friendship, she should at the very least, anonymously reports her friend in order to preserve and promote the greatest good. 2. Rights/Duties, Fairness, and Common Good based: Shelby has a responsibility, as a member of the class to protect the integrity of the grading system. Just because it is her friend who is cheating, doesn?t mean that her friend is exempt from immoral behavior. If Shelby knew a girl that she disliked was cheating, would she be more motivated to report her? Since all people are seen as equal, Shelby should not hold her friend to a different standard. She could either confront her friend directly, or warn her that she will be reporting her to the professor. She can respect her friend?s dignity by providing her with transparent options. Either way, Shelby cannot allow the disparity in grades be perpetuated if she can help it because the issue of passing the test is important to everyone and not just Shelby?s friend. They are all trying to obtain a passing grade, not just Shelby?s friend. It is unfair and hence unethical, for her to tip the balance in her favor. 3. Virtue approach: integrity and honor are two virtues that Shelby should embody and help promote. The way in which the conceptions of these two virtues are manifested is through action. Shelby must ask herself what is the highest state of character she can aspire to? She obviously recognizes the virtue of discipline and handwork, as evidenced by her preparation leading up to this test. Likewise, Shelby should push her self to think about the values she should live up to, those being integrity and honor in this particular case. - Like - 24 people like this.
Big Q said on Aug 20, 2012
Congratulations to Nasiha, the winner of our contest for "Cheat Sheet!" Thanks to all for your thoughtful responses, and please continue to check out our bi-weekly posts for another chance to win! - Like
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Tags: academic integrity, cheating