Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Student cheating prompts concern

Student cheating prompts concern

Experts and NU students say pressure to perform is encouraging dishonesty in college — and at NU.

By Erin Stock

The Daily Northwestern

After slaving to win admission to college, students often anticipate that performance pressure will wane upon their arrival. Instead, many find themselves in a hotbed of heightened academic demands.

With students expecting near academic perfection of themselves, and graduate schools also demanding it, more are turning to cheating to make the grade.

At Northwestern, the Weinberg School of Arts and Sciences reported 62 cases of cheating in its courses in 2003. More than 57 cases already have been heard this year. With two-thirds of all undergraduate enrollment in Weinberg courses, administrators in all six of NU’s schools worry that academic dishonesty is undermining students’ abilities to learn.

Across the country, schools report that more students in both high school and college are cheating — or at least getting caught. NU’s peer institutions, from Stanford University to Duke University, are discovering this trend as well.

The pattern appears to parallel a national one that extends beyond the academic community. With “cheaters” such as historian Stephen Ambrose, journalist Jayson Blair and writer Stephen Glass making headlines, it may be more than a coincidence that cheating in classrooms is on the rise.

“With these problems going on in the larger society, students are asking, ‘Why are you bothering me with a little bit of cheating?'” said Donald McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University who studies academic dishonesty.

McCabe, who founded the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke, said 22 percent of 14,700 college students surveyed in 2002-03 admitted to cheating on exams. Forty-seven percent said they had plagiarized, submitted work done by someone else or falsified a bibliography.

McCabe, whose survey included 23 schools nationwide, said many students told him they cheat because they feel competition forces their hand. They said that if everyone else in the classroom is copying solutions — or for that matter, if other job applicants inflate their accomplishments on resumes — honest people are put at a disadvantage.

“My sense is that college students don’t necessarily like the world they are going into and would like to participate in that change, but not at their personal expense,” McCabe said.

Weinberg sophomore Li-Chung Wang said he does not cheat on quizzes and exams, but he sees it occurring. Based on what he observes in the classroom, he estimated about 1 in 10 of students in his organic chemistry course have copied off each other during a quiz.

“It’s unfair,” Wang said. “I don’t know how much it affects the curve, but it affects the curve somewhat. And you live by the curve, too.”

According to a non-scientific survey of students in Norris University Center conducted by The Daily, cheating at NU is not much different from the national average. About 26 percent of the 218 students surveyed said they have cheated in a course at NU. “Cheating” was defined to include “using unauthorized study aids for an exam, copying, having someone else do your work for you, plagiarism, etc.”

Craig Bina, Weinberg’s outgoing associate dean for undergraduate studies and advising, investigates academic dishonesty. He said students who cheat in high school and get away with it tend to fall back on those behaviors in college.

“These aren’t students who are doing poorly (who cheat),” Bina said. “These are students who are doing well. They just want to do a little better.”

Stacey Atkins, a graduate student studying theater, said society mandates students to embody a “whatever-it-takes” mentality in their schoolwork.

“People are just pressured to take on too much and are pressured into cheating,” she said. “I think we also have a society that kind of supports the idea of taking advantage of any opportunity that you have to get ahead.”

Mark Hoffman, an assistant dean in the School of Education and Social Policy who handles cases of academic dishonesty involving Education students and courses, said many of the students he has dealt with have cited “stress” as a motivation to cheat, but others claim ignorance.

“I think there are some students who know they are cheating and don’t care,” Hoffman said. “I think there are some students that don’t realize what they’re doing is inappropriate academically, and I think some students do it and it’s kind of a cry for help. There’s some kind of academic pressuring happening and they don’t know how to deal and they choose to cheat.”

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Student cheating prompts concern