Cheaters, and their prospects of prospering.

When last I left you, I had given the work of the student (hereinafter known as 6pt) a hearty zero for its cheatery, and no bonus points for ingenuity.

As anticipated, there was an exchange of emails, starting with the barely disguised outrage of the first one, which suggested that I had made some kind of mathematical error, and ought to amend it, sharpish. I replied puckishly about cheating on the final meriting a low mark, and then wandered away from my computer for several hours, engaging, no doubt, in binge-drinking and/or childcare.

This, was quite, quite wrong of me, according to the student, who had fired back an email about expecting to meet me in my office an hour later. Dude, summer vacay. Chill the fuck out. Following some more back and forth over when and where I might be available, we met in my office.

I expressed my WTF, and asked what she thought she was doing. Much crying, because OF COURSE, I am rooning her life with my expectations and standards and similar. Basically what came out was that everything was my fault because I had:

  1. Given students the opportunity to do preparation for in-class assignments, which I had repeatedly called “workshops” and “not tests” and allowed students to work collaboratively in, thus creating a climate in which students thought it was okay to bring prepared work to class. Never mind that exams are different to class. I wave dismissively at your petty objection.
  2. Made comments, including “you may not write on the back of the paper because I don’t want any question that you brought in a prepared essay,” and “no, we can’t do the exam in the lab because I would not be able to prevent you from bringing in a prepared essay,” and “you need to pull your finger out because you write slowly and you are never going to get 2 essays done in 2 hours at this pace,” which had been ignored by the student. The ignoring part is filed as my fault because, ignoring is exactly the same as if I had not been clear.
  3. Said “notes” and when questioned about how big the notes could be, and how many words had repeated “a few notes”. This is clearly open to interpretation as “write your whole essay, I don’t care”.

Additionally, this student has had business exams in which guessing the essay and bringing it in seem to have been the main sporting events. The fact that I neither knew about these exams nor had any input into their requirements is irrelevant. This is not about me.

After listening to much more of this nonsense than I wanted, I said to the student “Okay, let’s say I take your word that you weren’t on purpose trying to cheat,” which was more of a benefit of the doubt moment, because really, it was pretty clear that what had happened was that she threw commonsense to the wind in pursuit of grades. So, I said, what do you want? Well, dear reader, what she wanted was for me to say “oh, okay then,” and change her grade to an A.

This, I could not do. Even had I wanted to, I could not do it. I explained this. I explained that the mechanisms for appeal did not include instructor whim. I (and then we) would have to meet with the Chair to discuss what was possible. The Chair at that moment being in another country, this was tricky. Well. How dare I not be able to teleport him back instantly to pay attention to her. Did I not know that this whole thing was stressful for her?

At this point, I confess, I began a program of heel-dragging. I waited until after the public holiday following the Chair’s return to email him and set up a meeting, rather than emailing him late on the preceding Friday night. I delayed on relaying this meeting time to the student, because, really, I was quite keen on her being stressed. I was stressed, and I was supposed to be on vacation.

The Chair and I agreed, that given the circumstances, we could exercise discretion about reporting her for cheating, and not do it. This was, let me be clear, our concession in mediation. There would still be a grade penalty because she had, effectively, cheated. (To those of you boggling at the illogic of this, the way it happened was that we compared her action to that of a student who had buggered up his or her MLA citation on accident. In those cases, we give a penalty for the buggering, but don’t call it cheating.)

So, we had the meeting. She wailed, she wept, she complained. The best part was the part where she said “I am willing to take responsibility for my actions it is all Prof Whatladder’s fault for being unclear.” Just like that. In one breath. Taking responsibility, I do not think it mean what she think it mean.

After listening to her for an hour, the Chair sent her away. Our problem was that she took several hours to write a paper that was supposed to be written under exam conditions in one hour. How, then, to mark this paper, even had we wanted to. I did not want to, let me tell you. Eventually, we decided, in the interests of getting her to STFU and go away, that we could give her a mark for the portion of the paper that was not affected by extra time, viz. the ideas. This is not a great solution, and it didn’t do much to raise her mark. I agreed reluctantly. I don’t like the idea of rewarding whining. I left, Chair said he would meet with her. Case closed.

Until yesterday, when I got an email from the Registrar, saying that 6pt was appealing her entire grade, and from the circumstances it looked like she cheated, so why hadn’t I thrown the book at her.

See, 6pt was not happy with the mildly improved grade and the pass for cheating and the not being reported and having on file that she is a cheater. Even though, as she artlessly confided to the chair, she had to photocopy her essay “several times” to get it small enough to fit on the page, at no time were her actions in any way deliberate. She was determined to get the mark she wanted. Her idea of a compromise here is an A- rather than an A. So she had filled out the report to the Registrar, including the fact that she had received a zero for “actions not in keeping with the spirit of the rules for the examination.” Indeed.

The Registrar, having seen 6pt’s account of events, was naturally wondering whether I understood what my responsibilities were in cases of academic dishonesty.

This, dear readers, is what you get for being nice. What you get is stick from on high. Do I understand my role here? I am certainly beginning to, and if at all possible, I would like my role not to be “goat” or “doormat”.

I explained the situation to the Registrar, who wrote back to say “Well, if you say it wasn’t deliberate cheating, then you can’t punish her, and you should give her, like, a B or something,” along with a really offensive sentence about understanding that part of my job is to do the right thing, rather than worry about the letter of the law.

So, those are my choices. I can report her for cheating, or let her get away with it. GUESS WHICH ONE I PICK?

10 thoughts on “Cheaters, and their prospects of prospering.

  1. cq

    i think that your school should make the appeal process really rigorous for the student…perhaps making them write a persuasive essay attempting to justify their complaint so they can actually see in print how ridiculous they sound…i bet most students would not even attempt it. all in all i hope that you gave her an epic fail

  2. Panastasia

    As others have said, throw the book at her and fail her twice if at all possible. How hard is it to follow simple exam instructions? And Jesus, if you’re going to cheat, at least [i]try[/i] to be somewhat covert about it.

    As a grad student I was forced to teach an undergraduate, entry-level gen-ed course, as was my fellow cohort of grad students. We would meet once or twice a week as a group with a professor to discuss any problems we were having with our classes.

    In one of our meetings I brought up two of my students who’d obviously cheated on an essay I’d assigned. I’d given my class specific written instructions, one of which was, “Do your own work: no group essays, no working with a partner. I want your own ideas and words.” (To be fair, maybe my instruction were unclear, much like Whatladder’s apparently were to 6pt.) These two students interpreted this direction as, “Hey, you write a sentence, and then I’ll write a sentence, and together we make one sweet, magical essay!” They each turned in the same essay, word for word. Even better, each had [i]written[/i] their own name at the top of the sheet of paper they’d typed and turned in – apparently it was too complex a task to type in one name, print, overwrite the existing name with the other, and print again.

    Now, each of these students had a “unique” writing style, so I knew they’d worked together. By “unique” I mean each had turned in other assignments or essays with certain words consistently misspelled (like “cloths” instead of “clothes”) and one also had a habit of turning in work that contained racial slurs and/or profanity. (For some reason, he just could not fathom why I found “fucking sand nigger” offensive. He included that particular phrase in an essay shortly after September 11, 2001. He also confessed to a hate crime in said essay, but I digress.) These little tell-tale details were apparent in the essay in question, so it was quite clear they’d worked together.

    I told the professor I was going to give them both zeros on the essay. Then this tenured professor, with decades of experience, gave all of us grad students a lecture about how some students just don’t [i]realize[/i] they are cheating and thus should be given a break; my two, for example, were mere freshman in a big, bad state college, and maybe no one never learned them ’bout no cheatin.’ The professor suggested I sit them down, go over my (very simple) essay instructions line by line, and let them rewrite the essay. Half of the grad students, me included, were appalled.

    I guess I should have expected as much, though; this same professor encouraged us to CALL OUR STUDENTS AT HOME if they failed to show up for the first few weeks of class, so we could encourage them to attend. That’s right. Call them. At home. To encourage them. To attend their classes. Classes they chose and signed up for. Classes that someone (presumably) paid for. Classes that weren’t even hard, not by a long shot. I always wanted to ask if I also should offer to wipe their asses after they shit, too, but never had the nerve.

    (Damn, I just reread this; I am a windbag. It was a bit cathartic, though. In any event, I like your blog, Whatladder. I am glad there are professors like you who actually try to teach instead of coddle. Keep fighting the good fight.)

  3. V's Herbie

    Dude… Hopefully she’ll learn her lesson about stirring the hornet’s nest, or not leaving well enough alone, or some other platitude. But really she’ll just continue to blame all her screw-ups on others until she hits the bottom or hooks up with someone willing to support her.

    She’s essentially asked you to fail her. DOOOOO IIIIIT!

    I really should not be this cynical while still in grad school… oh well.

  4. Spacecadet

    It sounds like you are being way too kind. This student sounds like she needs the book thrown at her, for her own good.

    Doesn’t your school have a disciplinary code? When I was a postgrad law student, I had a part-time job as an investigator/prosecutor at mine. It was mainly all about drunken behaviour in the dorms but there was the occasional exam cheater. Any grade that you awarded for the paper would surely be nullified in the case of a guilty finding, and then she would presumably be worse off than she is now.

  5. realrellim

    Wow. I had a student who I’d reported for academic dishonesty. The committee heard his case and decided he wasn’t guilty. No big deal, right? But, because I hadn’t shown up at the hearing (because no one told me when it was–though they did apparently leave a voicemail on someone’s voicemail–but not mine), the head of the academic dishonesty committee wrote my dean and told him that I shouldn’t have reported this student in the first place. Then my dean sent me a letter (and my dept chair) suggesting that perhaps I wasn’t competent to be teaching. The student’s offense? Repeatedly talking to other students and looking at other student’s papers while taking a test, with me standing five feet away and finally telling him outright to keep his eyes on his own paper. I had another TA who watched it too. (His excuse was that he was blowing off the test and asking his friends what they were doing afterward.)

    I really hope yours gets the F she has coming and the registrar’s office gets off your case.

  6. Dawn

    Doesn’t the chair have to take some responsibility for this? It was his idea to let the student off easily.

    Personally, I think she should be expelled.

  7. whatladder Post author

    If she continues to pursue it, he will have to appear at whatever meetings there are. I think this was a clear case of trying to be nice biting us in the ass. Won’t make that mistake again.

  8. Pingback: “Duck” means “Duck”. « What Ladder?

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