Kellogg reaffirms honor code following reports of cheating allegations


Drew Gerber/The Daily Northwestern

The Kellogg School of Management maintains an honor code system to ensure the ethical behavior of its students. Allegations of cheating at Kellogg made news last week after business school blog Poets and Quants posted a story citing anonymous students who claimed to have witnessed the incident.

Drew Gerber, Assistant Campus Editor

Following news reports of alleged cheating last week, the Kellogg School of Management reaffirmed the importance of its honor code in a statement.

Poets and Quants, a blog focused on business schools, garnered attention when it published a post detailing anonymous allegations of cheating at Kellogg in September, as well as claims by anonymous sources that the school did not properly address or punish the alleged cheaters. The story was cited by several other news outlets after its publication, including CNBC, the Chicago Reader and Business Insider.

The Daily has not been able to verify any of the claims made in the story regarding the alleged incident.

In response to the story, Kellogg officials told The Daily in a statement that all honor code issues reported to the school are thoroughly investigated, including sanctions and hearings when necessary and appropriate, and that investigations and their results are confidential.

In addition to the provisions for confidentiality in its honor code, Kellogg cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, which protects the privacy of student education records, in preventing it from commenting on specific matters related to the application of its honor code.

In its statement, Kellogg said its honor code is designed to achieve fair, thoughtful and unbiased outcomes that reinforce the school’s commitment to both academic integrity and professional behavior.

Reports of cheating

In the post, three anonymous students alleged that six male students in the Master of Science in Management Studies program openly cheated during exams in statistics and accounting this September. The three students also claimed Kellogg assigned a biased student to conduct an investigation into the alleged cheating and ultimately failed to punish students accused of cheating. The students interviewed in the post who claimed to have witnessed the cheating incident additionally claimed that they have received threatening phone calls after the school released their names to the accused students.

Ethan Baron, the author of the Poets and Quants post, told The Daily he could not reveal any information about his sources to protect their identities, but said he was certain of the story’s accuracy.

“What I did to verify the information was speak with a whole number of different sources … from different people, to make sure the stories matched up, which they did,” Baron said.

Apart from the alleged witnesses he interviewed, Baron said he had no information to suggest the other students he spoke with were directly involved in the honor code proceedings for the alleged incident.

Arnav Dey, a second-year MBA student, said in his experience Poets and Quants is generally followed more by prospective business school students, saying that although he doesn’t read the site often now, he followed it closely when researching business schools.

“It’s a great source of actually finding out about business schools,” Dey said. “Poets and Quants does a good job of aggregating and presenting (school ratings) in one place.”

Dey said one part of the discussion among Kellogg students revolved around the fact the alleged cheating occurred in Kellogg’s Master of Science in Management Studies program, which is designed for recent college graduates, rather than in Kellogg’s MBA programs.

“I have never heard of (violations) before, and especially in a written exam, it is very rare to see,” he said. “(If it happened) it would have been discussed whether it was Poets and Quants or somebody else because of the nature of the content.”

Kellogg’s honor code

Graduate student Scott Stewart (McCormick ’09), the vice president of academics for the Kellogg Student Association, serves as the liaison for full-time first-year, second-year and MMM students between the student body and the Kellogg administration. As part of his role, Stewart said he surveys and speaks with students frequently.

Stewart said he feels the general student sentiment is that having an honor code is important and something students take seriously. Students who join the Kellogg community are looking to profit from the school’s brand, he said, and they believe acting ethically is not only important to preserve that brand but also part of good business practices.

Compared to the undergraduate experience, the MBA experience focuses heavily on collaboration, especially at Kellogg, Stewart said. In this sense, he said the honor code lays out how to treat classwork and other individuals in the program. Having an honor code enables students to learn from one another and practice the group work that is vital to understanding how to function in a business in the real world, he said.

“It’s something we’ve sort of built a culture around,” Stewart said. “You hear anecdotally that cheating is rampant at top schools, and I just don’t see that at Kellogg.”

However, the existence of an honor code may not correlate with the amount of cheating at a school, said Teddi Fishman, the director of the International Center for Academic Integrity, an organization headquartered at Clemson University in South Carolina that seeks to cultivate cultures of integrity in academic institutions.

She said the International Center for Academic Integrity’s founder, Donald McCabe, initially hypothesized that schools with honor codes would experience lower rates of cheating. Instead, she said McCabe found that rates of cheating varied at schools despite the presence of an honor code, with some honor code schools experiencing rates of cheating greater than those without codes.

Kellogg also has an honor code committee chaired by students, which works with the administration in adjudicating honor code violations. Fishman said one of the key factors determining whether students respect an honor code is whether they have a hand in the process. However, with both peer-led components and components led by the administration, FERPA requires that these proceedings stay confidential, Stewart said.

For Fishman, confidentiality doesn’t have to mean secrecy. Although protecting the privacy of students is important, it is also important to communicate to the academic community that ethical violations are being noticed and addressed, she said. By publishing anonymized statistics on honor code violations and penalties in a paper or quarterly report, a school can communicate that the honor code matters, she said. Kellogg tasks its Student Affairs advisers with compiling and releasing an annual report on honor code violations in the fall.

“Nothing says something matters like action,” Fishman said. “You can say something is important all you want, but if nobody does anything about it, then it doesn’t really matter.”

Most importantly, Fishman said, honor codes should encourage students to learn from their mistakes rather than sanction students excessively. When the measures in response to an honor code violation are too harsh, students — and even faculty — won’t report on violations for fear of ruining a student’s academic career for a mistake, she said.

“We want a system that recognizes those things are going to happen and that it isn’t the end of the world,” Fishman said.

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