Throwing the book at cheating students

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October 24, 2011

9:23 PM

The verdict is in. Well, several verdicts are in, as per the recently published 2011 Honor Council Case Digest. Not only that, but the Honor Council has judged against those accused of cheating, lying or dishonesty.

The College of William and Mary prides itself on following a rigorous H Code, and the Honor Council is justified in its sanctions. The Council should consider harsher punishments. Throughout the Case Digest, single word litters the document. This word diminishes the authority of the Council and puts no fear in the hearts of would-be cheaters. The word: “Probation.”

Probation is a cop-out, a slap on the wrist, a second chance. In no case should cheating be considered an event worthy of another chance. Cheating requires the conscious decision to mock professors and fellow students and admit to academic cowardice. Probation tells cheaters that cheating once isn’t the end of the line.

The College was founded upon the ideals of academic excellence and ethical purity. Probation flies directly into the path of that mission and detracts from the tradition of honesty. The Honor Council would better solidify the College’s reputation with more sanctions involving sentences like “suspension.”

In fact, the Council could use a whole host of terms to combat weak punishments like probation. It could try “immediate expulsion” or “cheater must wear a scarlet letter.” To be fair, the Council did experiment with some different terms. It tried “required completion of training on APA style.”
Weak. I would suggest: “required memorization of APA style.” They tried “recommended counseling.” Let’s try “mandatory counseling and enrollment in philosophy class entitled ‘Ethics’.”

Obviously, each case merits different degrees of punishment. I don’t advocate a general expulsion for the slightest citation error. I do, however, advocate the removal of weak punishments from the sanctions.
Cheating is no small crime, plagiarism is more than a misplaced copy and paste, and lying isn’t just miscommunication.

In a world where academic cheating is easy, we should take pride in our ability to claim all work as independent and original. Probation does not allow for such a claim to be made. Probation allows for us to claim that only most of our work is independent and original.

“Most” isn’t reaching our potential, and I sincerely hope that every student here would wants to reach his or her fullest potential. By placing students on probation, the Council is setting a precedent: students who are too lazy to make their best effort can stay — they only have to be on probation for a while.

Why are we giving second chances to those who have already decided to take the easy way out? We should create an atmosphere where each student does his or her best work.

In fairness to the convicted students, I want to point out that the majority pleaded guilty. However, a plea of guilt does not and should not absolve or diminish the original crime. To reward convicted students for pleading guilty after the crime doesn’t do much good. Rather, it creates yet another unfortunate set of standards.

I challenge the Honor Council to find some resolve in their ranks. Let’s stop creating loopholes through which “everyone is a winner” and instead create an even playing field. Probation does not strengthen the Honor Code — it weakens it.

Suspend cheaters and make the College a place for true intellectuals. We take pride in our ability to make Tribe Choices and yet sit in class with HomeworkHelp1.0 on the next laptop over. I challenge students to make a stand and to dissuade cheating in all its forms.

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