academics & research

IU’s cheating policies put burden on teaching staff

A personal essay



EDITOR’S NOTE
Dylan reported this essay as a grading assistant in professor Glenn Gass’ class “The Music of The Beatles.” Gass was aware the reporting took place.


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Thursday, Sept. 20


“Do you see what this guy is doing?”

“Where am I looking?” I asked.

“A little more than halfway up, all the way against the right wall, gray hoodie,” Andrew said. “If he does it again, I want to kick him out.”

I quickly scanned the lecture hall and found the student Andrew had spotted, who was looking directly at the desk to his right. The student in the hoodie quickly went back to his own test, erasing an old answer and writing something new.

It was clear what had just happened. Like the handful of other students we’d already spotted during that first test in The Music of The Beatles, we’d caught another cheater.

Three students in the middle of the room had compared answers throughout the test’s listening section and another two students toward the back had been clearly looking at each other’s tests. Several more on the left side held their tests straight out in front of them, angling the paper so their neighbors could easily see the answers.

I had already discussed kicking those we were sure of out of the lecture hall with professor Glenn Gass but we decided against it. Getting into an argument with the students would only distract the others trying to take their tests. We resolved to pull the exams once they were turned in, keeping those we suspected of cheating separate from the rest We could deal with them later.

It’s a decision I greatly regret.

By the end of the test, the students in question had no idea we saw anything, and we had no idea what to do with their exams. When I left the lecture hall that night, we had already separated 18 tests from the 356. Of those, 15 belonged to international students.

It would be one thing if this was an isolated incident, but cheating was an issue we had anticipated; it happened when I took the class as a freshman, when I sat in as a sophomore and when I was a grading assistant as a junior.

This issue is in no way exclusive to international students or those in the Jacobs School of Music. The last four years have seen a steady increase in reports of academic integrity violations campus wide, with the 2011-12 school year showing a record high for the last 10 years. Yet – to us – it didn’t seem like the university was doing anything to prevent these incidents from happening in the first place. The longer we waited to handle these cheating issues, the more the students were shortchanged.

During The Music of Bob Dylan class in spring 2012 we began taking attendance, gave regular pop quizzes and switched from multiple-choice tests to short answer. Other professors in the department had suggested it may curb cheating. It was moderately successful. Attendance had increased and the grade distribution became much more varied.

Making these modifications seemed harsh, signaling a real lack of trust between us and our students. But given the circumstances and the evidence of cheating, we felt like we had little choice. We had to play the hand university administration had dealt us.

***

In the four years since IU adopted the “Indiana University International Strategic Plan,” the international student population on the Bloomington campus has grown by almost 55 percent. Today, there are more than 6,000 international students currently enrolled at IU-Bloomington, largely as a direct result of the university’s push to have one of the 10 highest international enrollment levels nationwide.

Some hesitant IU faculty and administrators have questioned the university’s international recruiting strategy, arguing that we should attract international students by creating strong, competitive programs rather than working heavily with recruiters.

Gary Potter has taught music theory at the Jacobs School of Music for almost 30 years and formerly served as the school’s director of undergraduate studies.

“I’m not sure that we’re doing well with the students that we’ve got, with bringing them in and educating them about our system, our language and our expectations,” Potter said. “If we’re not going to do that, we shouldn’t be bringing them in. It’s a bait and switch.”

In his unique role as both a professor and an administrator, Potter sees this issue through a lens not available to many. Though he has not seen any academic integrity violations from international students in his classes, he has heard from other professors who have dealt with a disproportionate amount of academic integrity violations from international students.

Having heard arguments on both sides, he is worried that the university administration has become too focused on admitting international students to solve the University’s fiscal difficulties. The pitfalls from rapid integration are invisible to the administrations, and it will be the teachers who have to reconcile these widely different educational cultures to make sure these students receive the education they are paying so much for.

Potter said however, a report at the beginning of the semester summarizing these numbers had indicated that the largest percentage of new cases came from international students.

“It used to be that students from Asia were the best students in terms of their ability, their preparation,” explained IU Economics Professor Peter Olson, “Now, there’s a much wider distribution, and a lot of the worst students now are from Asia.”

His feeling is that the University now accepts students who are not as well prepared anymore. In an effort to increase tuition revenue, the administration isn’t vetting the students who pay top dollar to attend the University. 

***

Tuesday, Oct. 2

The last grade was entered into the gradebook at 11:47 p.m. Tuesday. In the week and a half it had taken to get all 356 tests graded, we had found two more suspicious tests, both from international students, bringing the total up to 20. I left them a bluntly worded explanation regarding their score, and closed my computer for the night.

Wednesday became a blur of emails. Emails from various students asking to see their tests and disputing our claims of cheating, emails to and from Glenn stressing that we had done the right thing, forwarded emails from the department of student ethics explaining that unless we could identify a consistent pattern of cheating on the test itself, it would be difficult to prove any claims of academic misconduct. A handful of identical wrong answers and four people saying they viewed the students in question cheating would not be enough.

By the end of the day, I had received 34 emails from students asking to see their tests, a new record. Glenn and I consulted how best to handle this, and I sent a new message asking the 20 students in question to come talk to us after class the following night.

***

Professor Olson has taught economics at IU for 23 years . Among the organized chaos papers, books, and teaching materials that cover much of his office, Olson saves every academic integrity violation he has processed in the last 12 years, barely contained in two thick manilla folders.

From 2000 to 2010, Olson had reported 35 cases of academic misconduct. By the end of 2011, Olson had already reported another 29 new cases, 20 of which came from international students.

Though incidents have spiked during the last four years, Olson has the impression that the Office of Student Ethics seems to be more concerned about students being reported than the cheating itself.

The Office of Student Ethics would likely agree with Olson on that point. Jason Casares, the associate dean of students and director of student ethics, said the department’s focus has shifted during the last two years, putting more emphasis on education than punishment.

The office introduced new academic integrity seminars in spring semester of 2012, which have shown positive results. Casares said more than 98 percent of students who attended the seminar have indicated a better understanding of the school’s academic integrity policies.

“Those courses should be done ahead of time,” Potter argued. “There might be a point in doing that afterward, but it would be so much better if you did it before. It’s not very proactive.”

Potter retired from his position as director of undergraduate studies at the end of last semester. He hopes that the discussion will continue but is fearful many professors and administrators will not come forward about the issue.

“After all,” he said, “it’s the president’s initiative and seems to be a top priority, it’s the fiscally smart thing to do and it smacks of parochialism or even racism for one to question the value of increasing international population.” 

***

Thursday, Oct. 4

Fourteen of the 20 students we had emailed sat in the first two rows after class that night waiting to see their tests. Some looked angry, some curious. Some looked confused, others scared. We sat at the front of the class and explained our position.

We gave examples of what we saw. We explained that the tests largely backed up our opinions and how difficult this process had been.


We didn’t want to be there, but it wasn’t completely up to us. Growing frustration with attendance and prompts from the administration to crack down on academic integrity violations had brought us there. Now that we had arrived, however, we felt trapped in a position that was even more complex that the one we’d been in before.

We invited them up to the front to view their tests. Most denied that they had cheated. “We just studied together” was the most common excuse, even after we showed them tests full of identical answers. Others yelled in broken English after seeing the same thing. Some went quiet after we pointed out that their answers matched up with the other test form.

One confessed to everything before we could even tell him what we saw, apologizing profusely and swearing it would never happen again.

Two came up to us while the others were looking at their tests. “We really did just study together,” one said.

There was no trace of anger or frustration in their voices as they explained their position to us. They were calm and polite, speaking in hushed voices the whole time, and giving us no reason to believe they were being anything but honest.

“We’re really not like THOSE Koreans,” said the other. 

***

Thursday, Oct. 4

Later that evening, when I stopped to carry my bike up the set of stairs that perpetually blocked my route home, I noticed my handlebars were rattling. I looked down to see my hands shaking. I was exhausted from the stress of these confrontations. I let my bike fall to the ground as I sat on a nearby bench and caught my breath.

The night had been awful.

This was The Beatles class, for God’s sake; it should be fun.

This was the band I started seriously listening to when a girl I liked in seventh grade told me it was her favorite group. This was the band I’d listened to so much during my first semester at IU that my roommate eventually begged me to listen to something else. I went to the Beatles for comfort, unconditional acceptance and love. No matter how tough life became, the Beatles would be there to make me feel like everything would be OK.

I didn’t expect any of the students in class to care about The Beatles in the same way that I did, I just wanted it to make some kind of impression on them. I wanted them to understand the music and why it was important culturally, and, at the very minimum, to come to class and have enough respect for the professor and his staff that this situation would never happen.

Why didn’t this class matter to them? What did we accomplish?

We’d managed to make a dozen students and a few administrators mad. We’d subjected ourselves to significant amounts of extra work and strained our nervous systems far beyond anything we had expected.

It was 11:30 p.m. before my hands were steady enough to finish the ride. I got back on my rickety old bike and headed for home.

Tuesday, Oct. 16

During the two weeks after we first confronted the students we had suspected of cheating were exhausting. We discussed which students we would report, what we should do to prevent this kind of situation in the future, and the university’s policy. We understood their need to be an advocate for these students, but why couldn’t these same students be educated before they started school? Why was the university’s program so reactionary?

By the time the dust settled and we had reported the ones we could prove on paper, the number of tests we felt we could process had dwindled to seven of the original 20. Three other students would receive zeros but would not be reported for an academic violation. The rest would get off with a warning.

We weren’t out to get any of these students, and we didn’t want to put a permanent mark on their record, but we couldn’t let them go unpunished for cheating. The remaining 10, each of whom we had witnessed bending the rules, would receive their grades as if nothing had ever happened.

The reports were almost ready, all I needed were the students’ names and usernames. I logged into Oncourse to gather the last pieces of information only to find that it was too late.

During the time we spent talking with various departments and waiting for students to come speak with us, the class roster had dwindled from 356 students to 342. Every student we were going to report had dropped the class.

We could still have chosen to report them, but what was the point? All it would do now was draw out the process and the stress, and take more time away from focusing on what we were there to do in the first place: to listen, appreciate, and learn from some music by a band that meant more to us than any other.

Had we made the right choice? I’m not sure.

It seemed right at the time.

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