Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Why You Shouldn't Cheat: Reason #57

If you cheat in a professor's class and get caught, and then later, perhaps even much later, after the term in which you cheated is over, you might be out with friends on a Saturday night, having dinner at a restaurant near campus, and then in walks your former professor. You see your former professor, and she sees you. You were laughing at something, but you stop, even though your friends are still laughing at whatever you were all laughing about when your professor walked in. You stay on for another minute or two, but you are so uncomfortable, you get up and leave.

Perhaps you go somewhere else and continue to enjoy your Saturday night, or perhaps your evening is ruined because you are reminded of your cheating, and the F you got on the exam (as a consequence of your cheating), and your interview with some administrators in the office that deals with academic conduct. Perhaps you go back to your room and study or do homework so that you can continue to undo the damage you inflicted on your GPA as a consequence of your cheating.

The professor's evening will not be ruined by your presence in the same restaurant, even though it's not pleasant to be reminded about your cheating. In the rare instances when we professors venture off campus, we sometimes run into students who are happy to see us, we sometimes run into students who are surprised to see us outside of class (but who don't really mind seeing us), and we sometimes run into students who run the other way.

As long as the number of encounters with happy students is > or = to the number of surprised students and >> the number of students who run away at the very sight of us, I am content. It's would also be OK with me if the fear of off-campus encounters with professors served as a deterrent for potential cheaters.

I don't think it likely, however, that anyone who is tempted to cheat will first think "Wait a minute, maybe I shouldn't copy the answers from my friend's test because then the professor might catch me and then I might run into her at that Thai restaurant on X Street some night and have my evening ruined." But perhaps they should.


Nele said...

Or, as an example from Germany's not-so-distant past:

Imagine you are Secretary of Defense and some pesky internet researchers discover that you have plagiarized about 82% of your doctoral thesis in law. Then, after a couple days of struggling denial, you have to step down from office and you become the laughing stock of the whole country.


Anonymous said...


I taught a course to third-year engineering students in which they were exposed to the fundamentals of geophysics and geology. One of my students decided she would take a calculator full of notes into the final exam. I didn't catch her with it during, but she forgot the offending item in her rush to leave. The handwriting was obviously hers, though not enough to convict. We both knew what I couldn't prove.

Years later, I still bump into her downtown, as we live and work in a fairly small professional world. Managers become managees for their former students, students move jobs and follow promotions, and it is not uncommon to be the same person's manager and managee at various points in a career.

Every time I see her, she blushes and looks away ashamed. I probably run into her two or three times a year, and we're both twenty-plus years from retirement.

The worst part is, it was a very easy class and she had exactly zero reason to cheat.

Unknown said...

And this also gives you something chat about with your professor friends. They don't need to know which one, but you could mention it in passing.

Then, of course, you'll probably be swapping cheater stories the whole night... :-\

On second thought, just chuckle to yourself and move on.

Unknown said...

I enjoy the post. I studied biochemistry at a top University in Canada and never had the guts or even the audacity to cheat. If I did I would feel completely in shame. Sure it is one course but the fact as you said in your post it will come back to haunt you. I am doing my PhD in Finland. They have an interesting system where you can retake exams. Granted the classes are smaller but there is more emphasis on learning and not just cattle prodding students through the courses. I do not know how many people cheat here. As far as I can tell possibly not as many as I have heard that cheat at Stanford (due to their stupid academic integrity regulations).

www.72dynes.blogspot.com (Writing about surface tension and life).

Anonymous said...

The assumption here is that the student is capable of feeling discomfort associated with shame. Based on observations of both students and colleagues, I have been surprised to find a small but not negligible fraction of people (about 10%) appear to be shameless.

Anonymous said...

I hate it when I am out for dinner or shopping or at a movie and I see a former student, even one who did well in my class, and they are really freaked out to see a professor outside of class and they keep saying Omigod I can't believe you are here, as if I never leave my office. I feel like I have to make them feel comfortable, even though I just want to not feel self-conscious and be like a real person who goes to the store now and then to buy an avocado.

Alex said...

I feel like this merits a professorial re-make of "Every Breathe You Take."

"Every rule you break,
All the data you fake,
I'll be watching you.
Oh can't you see,
You won't impress me,"

It still needs some work.

Anonymous said...


akajb said...

@Anonymous 4:01.

I agree completely. I couldn't believe when we had a major plagiarism problem in a course I TA'd, how many of the students had no problem coming up to us TA's and saying in front of other students "about those marks you took off for plagiarism..." There are a lot of students who don't seem to identify cheating/plagiarizing with doing anything wrong. They may be frustrated that they got caught, but they don't think what they did was wrong.

Anonymous said...

Not only are certain students shameless, in my experience many faculty would rather excuse or ignore academic dishonesty, especially in better students. In my direct experience, the formal reporting of a student caught plagiarizing a lab report resulted in an informal punishment. Turns out this student was caught at least twice more plagiarizing as an undergraduate. The penalty? Certain faculty strongly recommended this student for graduate school. This student is now has a PhD and is a medical researcher.

Anonymous said...

Same observations as the previous poster. When I first came for grad school and had to TA lab sections, I caught a student cheating on the final quiz. When I reported this to the faculty in charge of the labs, he said something I never expected to hear, "It's the last quiz." So, essentially, he's telling me to let it slide. When I submitted the grades to him that semester, I suggested that the student's grade be lowered by 1 letter grade. I do not know what grade the student eventually ended up with. I've been teaching for 2 years now and have seen some suspicious activities during exams. On the 2 occasions I actually took the students' exams away, It was suggested to me that it's easier to just be lenient as students will fight back and complain and I'll get more headache. I'm getting very discouraged. While I enjoy teaching, having to deal with dishonest students and then being prodded to just "be lenient" is just killing my spirit.

Anonymous said...

i am not a student who cheated, but i *am* a student who did a stupid thing by not turning in a final paper, and kind of disappearing from the face of the earth. though i've since done a lot to deal with the psychological and emotional problems that made me shrink, much like the cheaters, i dread the thought of bumping into an old professor who might remember my face and think, "ohhhh you really bugged me!"

i think the overall wisdom is "don't do anything you'll ever regret."