In light of the ongoing investigation into the Harvard cheating scandal, and after reading several research articles by Donald L. McCabe detailing academic dishonesty, I believe the underlying cause of cheating is failure within two different peer groups: educators, who rely on illogical assignment structure, and students, who lack an honor system. According to McCabe’s 2005 research document on academic dishonesty, 21 percent (one in five) students reported cheating on a test at least once in the past year and 36 percent (one in three) students reported paraphrasing/copying material from an internet source (for written sources it was 38 percent) without citing it at least once in the past year. Overall, In his 1997 article, McCabe found that over students’ academic careers, 82 percent reported they had engaged in at least one serious form of cheating. It could be said these numbers are the result of professor academic mismanagement in placing too much emphasis on one or two assignments instead of spreading the load out equally through the semester. It could also be inferred that cheating is the result of an absence of an honor system among students; if nobody else says it is wrong for you to cheat, then is cheating really wrong at all?
Poor course structure can create an inclination for students to cheat as a means of academic survival. In McCabe’s 1995 article, two of the primary rationales for students to cheat were “I have too many competing demands on myself, so I have to cut some corners in order to survive” or “No one would ever know, so what does it matter?” Poor course structure comes in the form of too much emphasis being placed on group projects or only grading one or two assignments that essentially determine a student’s final grade for a semester. A professor needs to take a rational approach when developing a syllabus by taking into account student behavior, and not design an agenda that indirectly promotes academic dishonesty. High-stake educational models like the ones mentioned naturally breed academic dishonesty simply because there is too much to lose. If educational professionals were to adopt a more rational educational model where work is spread out, the propensity for students to cheat would be much lower because the tasks they are asked to do are within their means.
Student culture is also a major influence on cheating. For many students, a bit of cheating here and there is not considered to be that faux pas. Look at the rise of the modern day essay mill where students can pay someone else to write a paper on any topic for them. Things like this exemplify the lack of honor within student culture and could be a product of the tech boom over the past 20 years, which has made it easier for students to merely look up the answers to their assignments. It’s simple: students place a high value on time so why would they spend more of it researching a question when the answer is readily available online? Beliefs like, “no one would ever know, so what does it matter” drive students to act against their professors’ wishes. Even when students witness others cheating, there is often a hesitation to act because the witness can think of at least one time when they have been guilty of cheating themselves. This traps the student in a crisis of hypocrisy.
Cheating is just like nature: always in the constant state of evolution where the best methods to cheat will prosper. Educators need to combat this by taking a look at their agendas to see if it properly factors in student behavior, thus minimizing the possibility of cheating. Students need to learn to hold themselves accountable for their actions because if they get caught, they could be thrown out of school. It should always be known that the satisfaction of putting in the work and actually knowing material far outweighs that gained from cheating to get a passing grade.