Donald McCabe, an expert in the field of academic integrity, presented his research and findings about trends on academic honesty in college life during a lecture titled “But I Didn’t Know it Was Cheating,” for the Georgetown University Honor Council’s first annual Ethics and Integrity Lecture Series Tuesday evening.

McCabe, a professor of organization management at Rutgers University, is the founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity, a consortium of over 250 colleges that have joined in a collective effort to promote academic integrity. Over the last 12 years he has conducted extensive research on cheating in colleges and high schools, surveying over 20,000 students at over 70 colleges and universities nationwide.

“What we’ve found is that cheating starts early and grows, and this is most noticeable beginning in fifth and sixth grade,” he said. “There is a progression over time [where] cheating is becoming more acceptable for students.”

McCabe explained some of the ways students justify cheating. “Cheating is widespread. And students try to rationalize cheating however they can – it’s a response to parents’ pressure, teachers’ pressure, college admission … the list goes on,” he said. “I find it very difficult to find students who are willing to take responsibility for cheating.”

He said that cheating is increasingly viewed as a hassle that teachers do not want to deal with, and there is less done to punish students as a result. “Students feel that many teachers ignore cheating, at least on occasion,” McCabe said. “A common response I get from students is `the only reason I’ve done it is because this teacher or my school isn’t doing anything about it.'”

McCabe also discussed the growth of the Internet and its correlation to infringes on academic integrity. His findings indicated that in 1999, 68 percent of college students surveyed believed using “cut-and-paste” with Internet material was a serious violation of academic integrity, compared to only 27 percent of surveyed college students last year. “I have a feeling that [this trend] will continue to go down,” he said. “Research shows that the definition of plagiarism has changed radically over the years.”

McCabe explained that the most important step in curbing incidents of cheating is by creating an environment that will not tolerate such behavior.

“Schools without an honor code can create a culture where cheating is not tolerated, but it is done much easier on campuses that do have honor codes. At the same time, there are campuses with honor codes that have an environment where cheating is acceptable,” he said. “Faculty understanding and support of academic integrity policies is lower in schools that don’t have honor codes, and this also effects the school’s attitude toward cheating.”

McCabe said that schools where there was little chance of getting caught and where penalties for cheating were not as severe would also promote a “culture of cheating.”

McCabe discussed personal factors that might increase incidences of cheating, including students in business school programs. He said, “Studies have found that business students are more prone to cheating. From what I’ve seen, a common mentality among business students is that `the important thing is to get the job done regardless of how you do it.’ The business mentality that the end result should be achieved by all necessary means often leads students to justify cheating.”

In colleges and universities, he also found that cheating was more likely to occur at the top and bottom of the class, which he described as a “U-shaped graph.” He said, “At the bottom of the class students are trying to stay in school or remain eligible for sports, and are willing to take any shortcuts to keep their grades up. Likewise, students at the top of the class feel pressured to get into the top graduate program … and will do anything necessary to meet that end goal.”

Cheating becomes less common later in college, McCabe said, as students begin to form more personal relationships with professors in smaller lecture and seminar classes. “The best way to discourage cheating is to foster an environment of trust where students won’t want to disrespect a really, really good teacher by cheating,” he said. “They have such a profound respect and trust with that teacher, that even if the class is really hard, they wouldn’t think of cheating.”

McCabe advised the nearly 30 faculty and honor council students in attendance on how to curb cheating and other infringements of academic integrity. “Reduce opportunities to engage in academic dishonesty and challenge academic dishonesty when it occurs,” he said.

Georgetown’s Standards of Conduct under the Honor System include prohibitions on plagiarism, cheating on exams, using false citations, submitting work for multiple purposes, submitting false data or falsifying academic documentation. Sanctions can include anything from a letter of reprimand to dismissal from the university.

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