The cheating dilemma

by Beacon Staff • April 11, 2007

Everyone is told it's wrong and if you're caught, the odds are the proverbial book will be thrown in your direction.

At the same time, it seems an astounding amount of otherwise rule-abiding students give in to the lure of cheating and embrace the underworld of academic dishonesty.,It's the age-old question faced by students in college and elsewhere: to cheat or not to cheat?

Everyone is told it's wrong and if you're caught, the odds are the proverbial book will be thrown in your direction.

At the same time, it seems an astounding amount of otherwise rule-abiding students give in to the lure of cheating and embrace the underworld of academic dishonesty.

Plenty of students would seize the opportunity to cheat on a test if the situation were right. It may be dishonest. But given how widespread it is, simply writing it off as a shameful act is entirely too simplistic.

"People are getting cheated all of the time," suggested one sophomore radio and media production major, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of punishment from professors. "If it's not academically, then people are cheating at their jobs, and by jacking up gas prices. It seems like the people in the highest positions society has to offer have cheated in some way to get there."

Cheating on a test is something nearly universally condemned as immoral, but the ethical weight of the crime doesn't seem to be as strong a deterrent as the potential academic repercussions.

Point in case: the radio and media production student spoke of one recent test-taking experience that proves how easy it is for students at Emerson to cheat.

"The teacher said he was going to leave the classroom, and as soon as he left, the whole atmosphere of the class went to bursting out laughing, asking, 'Oh my God, is he serious?'" the student said. "Not long afterwards it went straight to asking, 'What's the answer to number one?'"

With their teacher out of the class, the odds of getting busted were nil. The fear of academic consequences was as absent as the professor. But what of the ethical considerations?

"Everyone who cheats feels guilty, either during or after they've done it," the student said. "The feeling [of guilt] eases [with time]."

This situation is far from a regular occurrence on campus. But the fact remains that when offered an ethically questionable, yet risk-free, opportunity to get a better grade, an entire classroom of students jumped at the chance.

Sophomore marketing communication major Karen Grill had a theory as to why students may cheat.

"I think that because students are under so much pressure to excel ... they drive themselves crazy trying to study," Grill said. "But if they knew that either they would never get caught or that no action would be taken against them, I don't think many people would hold back from cheating on an exam."

It is clear the threat of academic ramifications, not ethical integrity, is the only thing acting as a deterrent to this behavior. With that in mind, our academic institutions should look at the issue of cheating beyond black and white morals.

Following this line of reasoning would negate the need for hypocritical judgment calls and would actively embrace a reality based on logic, not academic indoctrination.