Faculty members are being put in a position to cheat our students!

The July 21, 2011 Chronicle of Higher Education article, NYU Prof Vows Never to Probe Cheating Again – and Faces a Backlash, describes how NYU Stern School of Business Professor Panagiotis Ipeirotis publicly announced his decision to no longer pursue students known to be cheating in his class because his prior pursuit of student cheating resulted in lower student evaluations of his teaching resulting in a lower pay raise and an “atmosphere of mistrust in the classroom.”

This article shows how academic integrity in the guise of student cheating is still not a priority in higher education. It is depressing to think that a professor, trying to do the right thing was instead effectively punished for those efforts. Perhaps the sheer ludicrousness of that will help the overseers of public and private institutions wake up to how the lack of clear standards in protecting the testing environment and clear message to the students leads to undermining the value of what students are receiving education-wise.

A few core facts:

1) 22 of 108 students were found to have cheated. Students were cheating in Professor Ipeirotis’ class, and studies show that left unchecked, students in higher education are cheating in general.
2) Professor Ipeirotis chose how to catch the cheating students. He was not following a school or department method/mandate – he simply chose to do the right thing.
3) Professor Ipeirotis feels he can no longer police his students because in essence, he was punished for doing so.

Students were permitted to exercise their “right” to evaluate the professor and many of them chose to criticize him for his “choice” to prevent student cheating. Faculty members throughout higher education are being placed in the same untenable position. Essentially, they are being asked to ignore academic integrity.

The Chronicle article demonstrates that the current system offers a disincentive for faculty to stop or prevent cheating. As long as the school leaves it up to the faculty to choose when and how to monitor and stop cheating, faculty that seek to protect academic integrity, will be “punished” by students.

As President of Software Secure, a company that offers software solutions that facilitate computer-based testing while preventing digital cheating, I spend my days talking with schools about how they protect academic integrity. One of the most perplexing aspects of the University decision-making process is that the decision is often left to the faculty member.

Academic integrity, the value of a particular degree, the quality of the graduate, and the comfort employers have pursuing graduates all seem to be institutional goals. I am sure faculty members have the same interests regarding these issues. But as Professor Ipeirotis’ story demonstrates, faculty is not always in the best position to both protect academic integrity and be the best teachers.

Faculty should not have to choose whether to stop students from cheating.

It’s a sad state of affairs when faculty feel compelled to ignore student cheating. Universities should set firm policies and choose methods and products to prevent cheating. Those decisions should not be left to faculty to make as it puts them in the awkward position of setting up unpopular methods of supervising students. Would the school leave it up to the faculty to determine tuition fees, codes of proper conduct, or who gets admitted to the university? Why delegate such an important decision and not have a centrally determined and enforce policy? Until schools do this, they will continue to get the results that they deserve.

Douglas Winneg, CEO & Founder, Software Secure

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