College Judicial Consultants

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Archive for the tag “integrity”

Stop Forcing Good People to be Defined by Bad Decisions.

“Confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer.” -That Gandhi Guy

 

After running CJC for the last 18 months, being the Chief Judicial Officer at MIT for over 4 years before that, and being involved in student misconduct for 5 years before that I know one thing to be true—almost all students are really good people. That doesn’t mean that these good people don’t do some really bad or really dumb things, but the fact that they do them does not turn them from individual symbols of hope and limitless potential to Jack the Ripper (or even John the Plagiarizer.)

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Who doesn’t love this guy? If he was a student at any college and made as many mistakes as he has, he would have been expelled.

Instead what happens is that once they mess up they find themselves at a place where they think they are totally screwed and their life is over if they get caught, and will be able to skate by if they do not. This isn’t a hard choice for most of them because the consequences of being caught are the monster under the bed, and not getting caught means they get to move on with their lives. Faculty and staff know that students are still developing as people (there’s even something called “student development theory,”) but people act shocked and disappointed when, despite the lack of almost any real-world examples, students don’t make the decisions we expect “fully developed” people to make. We punish them as if they have broken some rules of God and nature that make the university or the community what it is, and that their failures endangered everything good in the world. What we do not do is allow for the fact that, in a lot of cases, we have failed them by not giving them a third option.

 

Before you say what I know you’re thinking, let me be clear: most students are in similar places as the “bad actors” developmentally, face similar pressures, and yet act ethically and intelligently even when things get tough. There is definitely an obligation to the larger community to hold the “bad actors” accountable to reinforce the good decisions and support the majority of students who do the right thing. I get it. I believe it. I tell my clients that. However, that does not mean that we are not remiss by not offering any  opportunities for students and student groups to come clean.

 

The way bad decisions work (and I speak from experience) is that they are made and there is a period of time between the bad decision and when you get caught (assuming you get caught, which is less likely than we pretend it is.) During that time, you worry about what will happen if someone finds out, envisions your dream career and life evaporating into nothing, and the people you love and respect being so disgusted by you that they abandon you completely. For many students the time after the bad decision is when things get worse-they drink to drown the guilt, they start skipping class to avoid the professor, they get angry at the pledge that “makes them” feel bad, etc. Even more tragic is that they occasionally spend so much time trying not to feel terrible that they start justifying what they did. They say things like “everyone does it” and “it’s not that big of a deal.” When we do not help students be reflective and learn the right lesson, they teach themselves the one that makes things better for them.

 

And that’s where we fail all students.

 

What are we trying to teach the next generation of leaders? If the lesson is “never make a mistake or bad decision” then we are simply fools. Nobody goes through life flawless (except for maybe one skinny bearded fellow, and I’m pretty sure even he hung around with whores and thieves.) We should be teaching people that it is not a bad act that defines them, but what they do about their bad decisions. In other words: character is not defined by perfection, but by identifying when your actions have hurt someone or something and doing what you have to do to make it right.

 

Schools must offer a way for a student to come forward before he or she is caught and admit the mistakes he or she made without facing the same (or similar enough) consequences that he or she would if he or she was caught. That avenue should allow them to escape the more common penalty and instead provide them with the opportunity to make amends. SOME schools offer restorative justice options for lessor misconduct, but I don’t know of (m)any that allow larger misconduct to be dealt with in this manner.

For example, If a student copies a solution on a homework, hands it in, and immediately regrets it there should be a clear path for her to confess and do whatever is necessary to atone for that decision. Otherwise students will remain in the situation they are now—covering up all misconduct because they believe (usually correctly) that admitting it will guarantee that they get suspended or that they will otherwise be stopped from pursuing their dreams, even temporarily. 

 

I am not saying the restorative path should be easy, or that students will be willing to do what’s necessary to redeem them. However, there is value in developing the next generation of leaders to be people that admit when they make mistakes and are willing to do whatever is necessary to repair the damage they cause. If a student comes forward for academic misconduct before the act is discovered, a professor could give them an incomplete, make them complete a substantial assignment, and lower their final grade even if they complete the assignment. That’s a punishment, but it also provides an incentive to do the right thing in a way that either getting away with it or having a hearing does not. If the atoning student chooses not to do the restorative work, then that refusal can be used against him or her at a subsequent hearing because their lack of character will make the current sanctions that much more appropriate.

 

Without providing students a “safer” way to come clean we are teaching them that once they make a mistake they should do everything they can to not get caught. That failure to develop character is much more serious to me than someone copying question #4 on the third homework in their Physics I class. Once you create a culture where the people who make the worst decisions do what they can to get away with that bad decision, you are actively taking people who are fundamentally good and train them to be the next Ken Lay or CEO at Bank of America. Colleges should do better.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments or at DaveK@Collegejudicialconsultants.com.

 

Avoiding Looking Guilty During Finals

Most college students will have their finals next week, and I wanted to share some frequent “mistakes” students make to hopefully help a lot of you avoid getting into trouble.

  1. Make sure you fully understand your professor’s interpretation of the collaboration policy.  You are probably allowed to work together on final projects and presentations, but many professors have individual twists on the collaboration policy especially around finals.  You are responsible for whatever is written in the syllabus, whatever is said in class, AND whatever your school’s policy is on this issue.  Check with your professor to make sure your understanding of the policy is correct.  This is ESPECIALLY true for take home exams.
  2. On take home exams, follow the instructions regarding collaboration and acceptable source material exactly.  If you have 3 take home exams, chances are you will have 3 different sets of rules and expectations regarding collaboration and what you can use when completing the exam.  Your professors know that many students will cheat and use prohibited resources so he or she will be looking for some signs of academic misconduct. Take the B or C rather than trying to cut corners for the A.  I know take home exams suck, but getting caught sucks a lot more.
  3. Make sure you know how your professors feel about using past exams to study, especially if you are in a fraternity or sorority and have a “bible” with old exams in it. While I think it is fine to use old exams to study, avoid these mistakes:
    1. Do not bring in old exams you have as part of any “open book” test.
    2. Do not memorize solutions.  Even if you have memorized them because of your giant brain, do each problem/answer each question from scratch.  Faculty, especially faculty that use old exams, usually have things in the questions that they expect students to get wrong or answer a certain way and when someone doesn’t they get suspicious.
    3. If you have been told expressly what you can and cannot do in terms of using old tests, follow those instructions.  Professors have more experience catching cheaters than you do breaking the rules.
  4. Do not make the common mistakes people make when doing their final paper. I know many of you are going to half-ass your final papers especially if they are in a “blow off” class, but make sure that no matter how little effort you put in you avoid doing the following:
    1. Do not use Wikipedia.  I know that is almost hack advice at this point, but people do it every semester.  Here’s how they get caught:
      1. They actually quote Wikipedia and try to attribute that quote to a different source. Professors Google phrases.  You will get caught.
      2. Using a source sited in Wikipedia not in their library and that might be considered a “rare” book (i.e., no way you found it.)
    2. Make sure you cite your work properly.  A lot of plagiarism cases are based on students either not citing their work or citing it improperly in a way that looks like they are trying to take credit.  Go to your writing center or check with your TA to make sure you understand what’s expected
    3. Do not use a paper from another class.  Professors who teach similar subjects usually know each other and there is zero defense for doing this other than “I didn’t know I couldn’t” which never works.
    4. If you have someone proofread make sure his or her edits are put into your own words.
  5. Don’t cheat. I do not know a single person who didn’t know they cheated when I was in school, but as a professional I met dozens each year that claimed they didn’t know.  You know, and if you aren’t sure whether something you’re doing is cheating, it probably is.

All that being said, if you do make a mistake it is crucial that you handle the consequences properly. We have continued our 20% off sale though December 20, 2012.   The best time to get our help is before you meet with anyone officially, but we have a variety of services to help you.  So don’t do anything to get in trouble for academic misconduct or violating the honor code, but if you do get in touch with us ASAP.

Good luck on finals and congratulations on finishing the semester!

 

 

There for the Grace of College Journalists Go You (Hopefully)

I should begin by saying that I absolutely believe that student journalists are at least as respectable as their “professional” counterparts and, considering the state of media in America, often more so. They are often the only students on campus who take the time to understand university culture, challenging or bringing to light issues that effect their fellow students. In fact, most administrators I know are concerned (if not downright frightened) that their actions are going to negatively draw the paper’s attention, and that the student reaction to it will be so strong that they will have to retract, rescind, or otherwise respond to the criticism in a way that will haunt them. (I, in fact, know some Dean of Students that are so terrified of negative publicity that they do everything in their power to limit staff contact with student media, and will completely change their positions to preempt any critical stories.) That is not to say that administration is shady or trying to get away with anything. On the contrary, almost everything that any administrator does is done transparently, and the theoretical, developmental, and pedagogical reasons for those actions easily given. But different students have different needs and values, so any action taken and placed under a microscope will please some, enrage some, and bore others. (For example, I tend to be pro-Greek life which some might construe as being “anti-GDI” or “anti-administration.” I don’t see it that way, but trust me-for every person that thinks CJC is serving a crucial need and advocating for students, there is someone who thinks we are trying to ruin judicial systems.) Don’t get me wrong, in my opinion administrators, faculty, and other professionals on a college campus are always fair game. It is what they do for a living and as long as the criticism is factual, it is fair. After all, on college campuses these people are the “public figures” and should always be ready to face the spotlight.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of college journalists feel that as long as what they write is “true” then it is completely fair to write, and do not consider the impact that it may have outside of the article itself. I am taking in particular about including the names of students or student groups in who do something “newsworthy” without thinking about the impact that article will have on their subject for the predictable future. Students are not pubic figures, and in the “Google age,” student papers become a “permanent record” that every other office, system, and policy avoid creating. That means that when someone is 40 and they apply for anything or meet someone new, the first record that will likely show up about them is the thing they did when they were 18. Let’s face it. Most of us don’t do that much that makes the papers. Even if including names or identifying information is ethical and it makes the story “better,” I do not think that people realize the social and professional cost for the subject of their article. What’s worse is that many times the names of these people or organizations are printed before all the facts come to light or a situation is resolved so that what follows a person is potentially a baseless accusation, or at the very least a half-truth.

I had one case that really brought this home for me. [Note: I am going to change the names and facts to protect the people involved (and to keep confidentiality,) but hopefully the point will not be lost.] A student, “Steve,” was accused of making hateful and racist remarks against black people in an email. Charges were brought against the student and, as the process was happening, the student paper wrote about the racist threats, printed excerpts from his email, and included his full name. It quoted some students affected by the email that were, understandably, hurt and outraged by the email. The paper contacted me, but I was not even able to confirm that a case was happening, much less what was happening in the case because of privacy concerns. Steve did not respond to the journalist because he has a pending hearing and didn’t want to do anything to make the situation worse. So the journalist wrote the article with the information she had—the email, the opinions of the injured parties, and a “no comment” from me and from the accused student. There were then editorials and follow up articles on the topic for the next several weeks as the case went forward. At the end of the case the student had whatever sanction was given, but he was not suspended or expelled. The paper went on to say how “nothing was done” to the student because he was still on campus, and asked numerous students how they felt about “nothing happening” to Steve. Understandably there was a lot of outrage because the people asked had no idea what Steve’s actual sanction was, and neither I nor anyone else associated with the case would tell them.

By the time the whole thing was over there were 8-10 articles/editorials about the situation with Steve’s name appearing in most of them, and those articles were cited or referenced by various people across the country (blogs, Facebook, etc.) So to the world, Steve was a potentially violent racist, and my office and the university didn’t care enough to do anything about it. While much of what was written was factually incorrect, the journalist and other contributors worked with the information they had and wrote what they believed to be true. Nobody did anything that was against the rules or even professionally unethical, but that isn’t the point. Steve’s name is out there and linked to “violent racism” without any ability to correct it, remove it, show another side, or even go into what happened. To anyone who Google’s Steve’s name, from now until the end of time, Steve is a violent racist who got away with horrible things while in school. That’s not something that a future employer wants to deal with, and if they are even willing to give him a chance, its not something he can explain because the actual facts are different than what is searchable, and why would anyone believe his version? Long after the official and confidential record of his actions is destroyed according to law and policy, the “unofficial” searchable record will exist. In other words, at some point it will literally be impossible for Steve to prove anything other than what was written in the article.

Including Steve’s name did nothing to help the story or highlight the issues. I am not saying that the journalists didn’t have the right to print it, or that readers might not have been more intrigued because they could Facebook Steve and put a face on the story. I am saying that journalists have the opportunity to defend all students if they remember that the people outlive the story, and that their fellow students should be allowed to atone for and move past the mistakes they made when they were in college. They cannot do any of that fully if their name remains engraved in stone. A journalist could still print the story, get the resulting outrage, accuse the system and school of refusing to act, and talk about the racial climate at the university without associating an identifiable person with the issue.

Student journalists should take it upon themselves collectively to refrain from using names of students or student organizations that get into trouble while at school. Doing so will not interfere with the freedom to write about the incident, the reactions to the incident, and every other component of the story. News is news, and I for one will never tell someone to hide the truth. However, the truth and a journalist’s dedication to truth should be tempered by a moral obligation to the good of each member of their society. In the case of college journalists this means doing everything they can to protect their fellow students up until the point where doing so interferes with the facts of a story. This is especially crucial when the matter is being handled within the school’s system (as opposed to the courts) so unless they included a name, the student’s identity would be protected by those systems. Protecting your fellow students should be as important as getting the story out. The truth does not require a person’s future be sacrificed, or that an organization’s reputation be tarnished. It requires understanding the big picture and how the events fall within that picture, and hopefully keeping in mind that the picture is always bigger than it first seems.

The innocence problem.

When I began College Judicial Consultants I wanted to offer the best services possible for students going through their judicial process while still respecting the systems and the people involved in supporting that process.  In other words, I wanted to honor my former colleagues doing a very difficult and thankless job while making sure our clients avoided any and all unnecessary sanctions for what they did.  This seemed like a fairly straightforward goal, but I have run into a serious problem with about half the clients I’ve had—they have been innocent.

 

Why is innocence a problem?  It shouldn’t be, but judicial bodies are made up of human beings who enter into hearings with certain expectations.  These expectations place an unacknowledged burden on respondents when the complainant is a member of the staff, faculty or students in appointed positions of authority.  The only protection from this type of bias is if the judicial office(r)s are vigilant in recognizing and combatting it where it occurs.

 

Picture this:  You are a judicial board member who hears about 2 cases a week for an entire academic year.  You know there are many cases that don’t get to you that are handled by the administration, and you’re proud of the opportunity to serve your college by hearing the “more serious” cases.  The day before the next hearing you get a case to review.  A faculty member in an advanced particle physics class accused a student of cheating on an exam.  While the faculty member did not see the student cheat, one of the answers on one question has 3 lines of a mathematical equation that are the same as the person next to him and those lines have a common mistake.  In his experience and in his expert opinion, that means that someone cheated.

 

The professor spoke with both students and, after meeting with them, believes the student in question is the one who copied the answer and the other student was unaware of that copying.  The professor also comments that during the meeting the accused student was defensive and repeatedly denied the cheating, but seemed nervous and overly agitated.  As a response, the student respondent vehemently denies cheating, points out his grade in the class (a B+), states that most of the question was dissimilar, but cannot offer an explanation for why that part of the question was the same.  In support of his position, the student brings in proof that he studied and the testimony of people sitting around him in the class who will testify that they did not see him cheat.  The other student excused from the accusation also testifies that he did not see the respondent cheat.

 

In the above example I assume that the professor honestly believes that student cheated and will calmly and confidently reiterate that fact as well as his belief that such an event can only have occurred if one student copied off the other.  The student, on the other hand, repeats the information in his response, is flustered, and acts very nervous throughout the hearing. Your system has a “preponderance of evidence” standard which means a student is responsible if he is “more likely than not” responsible.  What do you do?

 

In the above example a board member would have to decide that the professor made a mistake or that the student is lying.  If you believe the student isn’t lying then the professor has to be wrong, and if the professor isn’t wrong then the student had to cheat.  Despite that, this doesn’t come down to a coin toss in practice, however.  Board members do not operate in a vacuum, and the professor comes to the table with a respect and expertise that cannot be matched by the student.  It’s human nature—when in doubt trust the expert.  You should listen to me when I make suggestions on preparing for a disciplinary meeting, but my medical advice is useless.

 

As I’ve said before, I believe in the preponderance of evidence standard in judicial hearings.  I think it is the best standard if the process is indeed to be educational because it allows a board to sanction in a way that addresses the specific needs of each student in question.  However, when a vast power differential exists between the two parties, the intangibles, which oftentimes determine responsibility, will always favor the one with more power.  (i.e., Social justice 101.)  The power difference in these cases is exacerbated by other factors I have found common with most boards.

 

First, they trust the judicial office(r)s to weed out bad cases.  In other words, the judicial office(r) should make sure the right parties are there, that all procedural requirements have been met, that there is a prima facie case, and that the board has complete information.  While that is almost always done the very act of doing it creates an implied endorsement of the case as “valid”.  While this doesn’t mean that the board will always agree and find responsibility, they board trusts that they wouldn’t hear a case if there wasn’t a chance of responsibility.

 

Second, they assume that accused students have more reason to lie than faculty, administration and police.  I want them to believe this because it is usually true, but the problem is that the only options are not “lie” and “not lie.”  There is also the possibility that the “expert” has made a mistake or has been either fooled by someone into thinking they’re innocent or misinterpreted someone’s behavior as indicating guilt.  Let’s face it, people respond to different personalities differently.  What’s confident to one is cocky to another.  What’s nervous to one is guilty to another.  When there isn’t hard evidence, much of the testimony consists of subjective (if educated) beliefs.  Those beliefs need to be challenged and it is unfair to expect student board members to challenge them when those in the position to do so did not.   The judicial office(r) should be the one to do so, but the power dynamic between staff and faculty often stops that from happening.  As a judicial officer you want faculty to employ and trust your system, and if faculty feel they are “on trial” they will simply avoid the system.  While that is a tough dilemma for the administrators involved, they must put the rights of the accused student first.  Every time.

 

Third, their job is to support the system, the school, and the policies that govern them. This is another statement that is almost always positive in practice, but I think it needs to be approached differently.  When I used to train judicial boards I spent a lot of time talking about how they could navigate the intangibles such as body language, demeanor, experience based likelihood, etc. Knowing how to do that would allow them to make tough decisions because we instinctually can recognize deceit and, with training to develop those instincts, it can be a useful tool. I would then emphasize that their job was to assume innocence of the accused student unless the complainant make a convincing case.  In other words, they support they system by holding violators accountable, but also by not holding accountable those people innocent of wrongdoing.

 

Fourth, there is almost no discussion of the overwhelming difficulty of disproving a negative claim against you made without evidence.  I would spend a lot of time in those trainings talking about how hard it was to disprove a negative accusation and would have them make accusations against the person next to them about a character issue.  (e.g., “You are a terrible boyfriend.”  “You don’t work hard.”  “You like to lie.”)  Then I would have the person disprove that statement to help them understand that accusations, even strongly believed accusations, needed substance behind them.  If there is actual evidence the respondent can respond to that, but opinions and beliefs are a different story.  As a judicial officer you need to be able to tell people, no matter their position, that the evidence is not enough if they cannot support their claims.  I don’t mean you substitute your judgment for the board, but I mean you have to understand the psychology involved to make certain that, once you strip the complainant of the advantage of his or her authority and expertise, that the accusation must meet the burden.  If all that’s left is a coin toss, it doesn’t.

 

Being a judicial officer is a thankless job.  Most students don’t know who you are, and the ones that do likely think you’re some sinister heartless robot sitting in your office dying to punish students.  Other staff and faculty, if you are lucky and they have any respect for your system, see you as an ally who is there to help them enforce rules and hold student accountable for the misconduct they commit in their areas.  If they bring a case to you and the student is not found responsible or the sanction is stronger or weaker than they wanted, then you and your system are flawed.

 

Despite this, most of the judicial officers I have known are some of the most compassionate and empathetic people I’ve met who constantly work to improve their systems for all parties involved.  Unfortunately, since starting College Judicial Consultants I have also seen many people who are at best careless with the rights of the accused and at worst actively trampling those rights.  The worst part is that the system, like any other societal system, does not give an opportunity for those wronged by the system to have any vindication.  While there are appeals boards, the standards for granting an appeal are rightly very high and they also have numerous assumptions going into the appeal (e.g., the evidence standard for altering decisions is usually much higher.)  Even is a student is convinced and is correct that an administrator has been acting unethically, they are easily dismissed as having “sour grapes” or being “retributive.”  After all, one could claim, they are a cheater and are too mature to take responsibility so how seriously can you take them?

 

College Judicial Consultants wants to make sure that we help students identify the situations where factors other than their actions are being considered, and give them the tools to fight those factors.  In other words, we want to help them bridge the gap in power and authority inherently present in the system.  I still believe that accountability is of primary importance on a college campus, but accountability quickly becomes oppressive if it supports an unfair dynamic.  Judicial office(r)s are the first and best line of defense to prevent this from happening and, frankly, a lot of them need to step it up.

Crunch time…integrity is the real test.

I was on Huffington Post College and saw that they posted this article from College Humor  with some very funny (and scarily accurate) interpretations of what people say during finals.  Since I started College Judicial Consultants I will not be working on a college campus during finals for the first time in 10 years, and it made me realize how much I love that time of the year.  I was a big crammer, often trying to make up for a lack of studying over the previous 3 months in a week of coffee-fueled reading.  As an English and Philosophy major it was really hard to cheat (few multiple choice, many essays) so this really was a matter of writing my butt off and making sure that I had a working knowledge of these philosophers whose names I didn’t know how to pronounce since I missed like 18 classes.  I usually had a lot of steam for the first couple of days of finals, but occasionally I would have a final a couple of days after the one before it and those were always trouble.

Nutrition was one of those classes when I was at UCONN.  I had done a really good job catching up in all the classes I cared about, but I was looking at 3 days to learn the material for this one class I thought was a total joke.  After a day of looking at my then-girlfriend’s note cards I decided that it wasn’t worth doing all the work and that I was going to make a “cheat sheet” to help me though all those boring things I didn’t want to learn anyway.  I remember copying down everything I needed to know, reducing it until it fit on 3 pages, and then reducing it more until it fit on one page, and then finally getting it to the point where I could get it on one page.  I taped it to my leg, and then went to the final fully planning on going to the bathroom once I saw the test to get the information I couldn’t remember.  I told myself I was a good student (grade-wise), this was the first time I was ever going to cheat, and the class didn’t matter to me so it wasn’t really a big deal.  Right?

Wrong.  Every action you take that compromises your integrity should be a big deal.  There are very few things in this world that you can truly own, and the quality of your character is one of them.  By taking a short-cut like the one I intended, I was saying that doing slightly better in this class I didn’t care about was more important to me than maintaining my integrity and self-respect.  (This sounds like I’m saying it would have been worth it if I cared about, or needed, the class, but even then I believed that if I needed to cheat to get something I cared about then I was essentially admitting I couldn’t get it without cheating.  I was not ready to admit that to myself.) I also knew a LOT of people who were cheating in one way or another during finals week, whether it was getting “help” on a paper, submitting work that wasn’t theirs, or cheating during an exam.  I assumed that college professors, like retail stores, expected a certain amount of cheating, and that I wasn’t really doing anything terribly wrong.  (Long confession, short:  by the time I reduced all the information to a single page I had committed it to memory, and I didn’t use my cheat sheet.  I probably would have, but since I didn’t need to I emerged from college cheat-free.)

When I started working in higher ed, and especially in judicial affairs, I realized that I did have some things correctly.  A lot of student use crunch time and the amount of work that comes with it as an excuse to take short-cuts and professors do expect a certain amount of cheating.  What I had wrong (actually, one of the things I had most wrong) was what those expectations and realities meant.  Professors do expect a certain amount of cheating, especially during crunch time, so they are much more diligent during that time about catching people.  When I was chief judicial officer at MIT, this meant that my busiest time was during finals and the week after finals where literally 80% of my complaints for the semester would come in.  While most of these reports were about academic misconduct issues, there was also a large increase in the number of personal misconduct complaints due to students being over-stressed or celebrating too hard.  Humanities faculty would do Google searches of sentences in submitted papers, science and engineering faculty would compare tests of people who sat in the same area, and computer science faculty would run code plagiarism software on everyone.  Faculty also know about most if not all of the “papers for hire” sites and would check the source material to make sure that they were all available for the student, or they knew that the papers were not their work.

The point is, faculty work a LOT harder to catch people who are trying to cheat.  I’m sure part of that is due to ego (what I like to call the “how dare you?!?” factor) but a lot of it is to protect those students who do not cheat.  Even though many students will take shortcuts, most do not.  That means that for every young Dave trying to make a cheat sheet, there are dozens of then-girlfriends in study groups, staying up late, reviewing the material until they know it cold, and working really hard to apply that earned knowledge on an exam.  By catching the cheaters, faculty are supporting those people by making sure people get the grades they deserve.  By punishing people who cheat they are, in effect, rewarding those who do not.

That being said, sometimes life gets in the way of students with the best of intentions.  People break up during crunch week.  The job you applied to that you thought you had falls through.  Your parents get divorced. You get sick.  Things happen.  While we exist to help you get through it if you do get caught committing academic misconduct, I also want you to know that if things fall apart during this time you do have options.  None of these may work, but students are often surprised at how reasonable the staff and faculty are around them.  If your life falls apart and you are overwhelmed to the point that taking short cuts seems reasonable, try one or more of the following:

1.  As soon as you feel overwhelmed contact your professor.  All students get stressed, but if something really unusual, unexpected, and unavoidable happens let them know!  They may give you an extra day or two, offer you the opportunity to move your final, give you alternative assignments, or even just remember that you called them when computing your final grade so they shift the weight of various things.  Faculty have a lot of autonomy within their classroom and almost all of them care deeply about their students so give them a shot.  The chance of this working is a lot higher if you contact them sooner than the night before the final, so try to reach out as soon as that bomb falls.

2.  Use the academic support resources offered by the administration and departments!  Almost every school has tutoring centers, writing support, academic councilors, departmental tutors, and other resources to help you edit a paper, understand part of the material that has eluded you, and understand the right way to study that particular subject.

3.  Get some sleep.  I’ll find and link to articles later, but if you are having trouble with a subject nothing will hurt you worse than being too tired to recall what you do know.  At some point you hit the point of diminishing returns where the damage of staying up well outweighs the amount of new information you will learn.  Also, when you’re tired you are less rational and any emotions you feel are therefore magnified.  This helps make bad ideas look like good ones.

4.  Take the crappy grade.  Here’s a fact:  after I got into law school there has not been a single person who cared about my college GPA.  While good grades may help you get the interview you’re looking for or get into the medical school of your dreams, that one class will not.  If you already have good grades, a single blip will not hurt you.  If your grades are bad, a single good grade won’t help you.  Take the hit and use the time and mental energy you would have used to cheat (and worry about it) to ace the other classes and move on.  A lot of colleges allow you to take a course you fail again and have the second grade replace the failure, so this may not even hurt you at all.

5.  Know that the consequence of getting caught is much worse than the bad grade.  If you are an undergraduate student and you get caught cheating or plagiarizing, you should expect the professor that catches you to report it.  This will, at a minimum, create a disciplinary file for you which counts as an academic record and, therefore, is discoverable to anyone who has your permission that asks for it.  More likely you will have to deal with your judicial process and, if found responsible, will be placed on probation or suspended for a period of time.  If you are a graduate student the same remains true, but you also have hurt your reputation in the field which could end your career.  Compare that to getting a D, and it’s a no-brainer.

I mentioned the time I was going to cheat to emphasize that anyone can get themselves into a situation where that kind of short cut makes sense.  It helps to know that most people feel overwhelmed at some point in college, that there are resources to help you, and that even if the worst happens and you fail that it isn’t that bad in the long run.  That being said, if you do decide to cheat and you have tried some of the things I mention above, it will be a lot easier for us to help you with your defense.  Good luck, and remember that winter break is just around the corner  and that there is always a chance to redeem yourself next semester.

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