Academic dishonesty: why shouldn’t we cheat?

With several weeks of classes now completed and the first batch of midterms on the horizon, the urge to cheat may begin to intensify for some. What many, many, many of us may not know is that there are words for this type of immoral academic action. They come in two forms: Academic Negligence for less extreme cases, and Academic Dishonesty for more contemptible acts of scholastic treason. Colby’s own Academic Integrity Board kindly provides a more precise distinction, explaining that “Academic Negligence is reported for minor offenses, where the work in question constitutes only a small portion of the final grade for a course.” Contrarily, the Board defines Academic Dishonesty to “consist of…an intentional act of deception or misrepresentation.”

Now, it should be assumed that all students have the Colby Affirmation ingrained in their memories, but to err on the side of caution, a paraphrased excerpt is provided. The Affirmation details how, as students, we “agree to take ownership of our academic work, to submit only work that is our own, to fully acknowledge the research and ideas of others in our work, and to abide by the instructions and regulations governing academic work established by the faculty.” This statement should not be hard to agree with. In fact, the Colby student body already has multiple resources in place to help combat temptations to cheat, including peer tutors, office hours, and institutional academic help groups like the Farnham Writing Center.

Helpfully, the College has put up flyers around hotspots on campus, which present hypotheticals and rate them for a “sanction score,” which ranges from red, indicating “extreme,” to maroon, indicating “very extreme.” It comes as a disappointment, then, that it appears that this poster campaign, which many are describing as the administration’s “minimis opus,” was fairly ineffective at squashing academic dishonesty. This is unsurprising. One should not expect that, as if by some hand of God, an admittedly well-designed poster would stop those under pressure to cheat from doing so.

Some argue that all students are predisposed to cheat by  nature. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy – no matter what measures are taken, acts of academic negligence and dishonesty rear their ugly heads semester in and semester out. Further, they argue, the mere existence of an Academic Integrity Board here at Colby is emblematic of a reactionary culture, not a preventative one.

On the other hand, there are those of the opinion that even the most questionable act of academic dishonesty should be treated with a dose of draconian punishment – historically, it’s the same firebrands who would call for enemies’ heads on a pike. With some consideration to avoid overdosing on superlatives, the author insists he make this point clear – this is objectively incorrect. The administration is blind to the real root of the problem, which is a failure to provide precautionary education aimed to quench the desire to cheat before it even arises.

The author, who coincidentally happens to be a proponent and champion of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution’s freedom of the press, wishes to retain his right to partiality. In so doing, he may risk claiming that  one opinion is more accurate than another, from time to time. It is worth mentioning that it seems everyone has an opinion when it comes to hot-button issues such as academic honesty – and everyone’s entitled to their respective (if not respectful) opinion. To be clear, despite the ability to enjoy such freedoms as dissent, the author makes certain that his criticism of the current measures against cheating are not to be interpreted as a way of condoning cheating in any form.

That said, David Greene, Colby College’s president and feared leader, appears to fail to realize that violently swinging the olive branch of peace accomplishes nothing. The focus on addressing the unavoidable cheating that occurs at any level of academia should be shifting. As a culture, we ought to put more value on the prevention of future academic misconduct than on the punitive action of past dishonesty.

See, the master key vis-à-vis an academic honesty guarantee would be to oversee wannabe Colby attendees with a cruelty-free modus operandi, lest those few falsely-accused detainees must cop a plea to the third degree. Put differently, VIP members of the Colby administration – who have the power to shift this spotlight – ought to emphasize this change to the incoming first-year classes.

What steps can the administration take to shift this focus? One idea is to institute an anonymous, double-blind, volunteer-based hotline consisting of student receptionists who, during their scheduled shifts, would be “on-call” to field and respond to calls about academic crises. This would provide a valuable, proactive resource for Colby students who are feeling inclined to cheat. The hotline receptionists would be trained on how to talk down students who are at their academically most vulnerable, in an attempt to stamp out academic dishonesty at the source, rather than wait for it to occur and respond with punishment.

At the end of the day, any action taken to help ensure academic integrity is a good one. The major takeaway should be that there are improvements left to be made. Rest assured, in the constant struggle between academic good versus academic evil, honesty shall prevail!