Ethics Observations On The Dartmouth Cheating Scandal

DartmouthSixty four Dartmouth students have been charged with cheating in a special religion and ethics class that was designed for student athletes. The details can be found here.

1. The reports quote the professor as saying,

“Part of the reason I designed this course was that I had the sense that some athletes coming here to Dartmouth might have felt just a little bit overwhelmed or intimidated academically. I wanted to design a course that would appeal to their interests and allow them to have an early success in the classroom, and I’d hoped that they would be able to build on that success throughout their time at Dartmouth.”

Translation: The students were accepted for their athletic prowess, and this was a baby-steps course just for them.

Why is Dartmouth admitting students who need such phony courses?

2. An admittedly non-challenging course to allow athletes an easier route to graduation sends the clear message that integrity isn’t valued at the institution. The professor’s expressions of disappointment and sadness are either naive or disingenuous. The university was cheating to keep them in school: why should he be shocked that they would cheat in return?

3.  The course creator and instructor, Prof. Balmer, says he believes honor was once “very much a part of our society,” but that notion is fading,“I think honor no longer is something that has a lot of resonance in society, and I suppose in some ways it’s not surprising that students would want to trade the nebulous notion of honor with what they perceive as some sort of advantage in professional advancement.”

The hypocrisy here is stunning. He creates a rocking chair course so unqualified students can show a misleading Dartmouth degree to employers, and bemoans his students’ failure to appreciate the value of honor.

4. The students are apparently being suspended for one semester, and not being expelled…for cheating in an ethics course!

Then the college spokeswoman has the gall to say,

“The academic honor principle is a foundational element of a Dartmouth education. The integrity and excellence of that experience require trust between our faculty and students. For this reason we treat all academic honor code violations as major misconduct.”

But you certainly don’t want to weaken Dartmouth’s athletic teams by taking a real stand against cheating, right? If cheating in an ethics course doesn’t warrant being kicked out of a prestigious college, what does? “Academic honor code” my foot.

5. To return to a previous theme, college athletics is inherently corrupting of both institutions and students. This is just another depressing example.

6. If that many students cheat in an ethics course, how effective could the professor be?


Sources: Daily Mail, Boston Globe, The Dartmouth


17 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On The Dartmouth Cheating Scandal

  1. The corruption of the NFL and NBA has filtered down to the college level. Actually, for football, at least, it has filtered through that level down to the high schools, where the real coddling begins. So why are the co-founded and cheating a surprise? The players have been coddled for years.

  2. I approve of colleges having ethics courses. Didn’t you have a tag for instances of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons?

    Although… the only ethics likely to be taught in a course specifically created to avoid standard academic requirements are bad ones.

  3. As you may recall, Jack, Dartmouth is my alma mater. This is the first I’m hearing about this story… guess it isn’t something to brag about in the alumni newsletter.

    There were no special courses for athletes back in the ’70s, when I was there. Indeed, the college was very proud of the fact that all its students were in what amounted to a College of Arts and Sciences… unlike, say, Cornell, whose Hotel Administration school in those days was heavily populated with Canadian hockey players (in particular). Athletes were expected to be able to compete in the classroom as well as in sports. Virtually all of them did.

    There was a cheating scandal at Dartmouth my freshman year, too. Those who actually cheated were suspended for a year or expelled altogether; those who knew about the cheating and didn’t report it were all suspended for shorter periods. The Honor Code meant something once upon a time.

    I’m old.

    I should note, however, that expulsions for cheating are indeed extremely rare throughout higher education, especially for a first offense. I’m considered something of a hardass because I have not infrequently failed students in the course (not just the assignment) for plagiarism. But I know of literally no students who have actually been expelled for cheating per se in my 35 years of teaching. Actually suspending students for cheating is indeed far harsher treatment than they’d have received at the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities. So Dartmouth’s current position may be inadequate, but, taken in the context of standard procedures across academe, it probably falls short of hypocrisy.

    Oh, and your #6 reminds me of a probably apocryphal story of a Greek pedagogos who sued a former student for not paying for his services as a teacher of ethics. The jury gave him nothing, ruling that if he’d taught the boy anything, he wouldn’t have had to worry about being paid.

    • This horrifies me.

      Cheating should always carry the academic death penalty—I would assume that the fact that it doesn’t accounts for the predominance of the problem. In a risk/reward basis, it’s a good gamble.

      • Except if you’re Ted Kennedy, who had others write his work for him, and only drew a hiatus, eventually graduating from Harvard and UVA.

        • I don’t know what you mean by hiatus. He was expelled, period. You are allowed to re-apply, and Ted served in the military before doing so. But he was kicked out of Harvard for cheating.

          • Yes, you are allowed to reapply, and yes, he did serve in the army in the meantime…where dad’s political connections kept him out of Korea and got him to SHAPE HQ in Europe where he regularly vacationed in Switzerland. Just so important details don’t get left out. Any way you slice it the man was a privileged, ethics-free jerk. I popped a bottle of champagne and toasted his long-overdue death.

  4. “To return to a previous theme, college athletics is inherently corrupting of both institutions and students. This is just another depressing example.”

    As an observation of the *current* state of college athletics I can generally agree. But I don’t think it is that simple. There’s a long history here, where athletics and physical development, extremely key aspects of the development of any young person, played a role in college life that didn’t override the purpose of the Universities. Somewhere along that history we can say the scales tipped and athletics began corrupting the higher education system, before which we can also say that athletics contributed to a University’s health and not detracted.

    This analysis must include ALL athletics, from intramural to physical education classes, not just intercollegiate topics. The analysis must include how forces external to the universities have affected this push – be it the professional leagues or government action or even the pop culture emphasis on entertainment. And naturally how a university handles it’s internal financing. Simply put – a university will not emphasize athletics, until the money it expends for athletics is surpassed massively by the money brought in that can support the athletics AND any academic programs the money can bolster.

    I am a firm believer that too many people are in college and most people actually don’t need college, but that external forces pushing the great “Bachelor’s Degree” myth compel Universities to recruit via any means necessary, and being attached to a great sports fan base is one source.

    If I had the historic knowledge pertaining to the early years of university athletics and how the motivations / financial arrangements have changed over the years I could contribute. But I don’t think a blanket “athletics are corrupting” is completely fair statement.

  5. If a college offered a course in how to cheat and scam and swindle and rip off others, and get away with it all…and the students taking such a course cheated their way to qualify for course credit…upon a student’s being caught cheating, would the college be obligated to award a passing grade? With extra credit? Or, would anyone’s cheating to pass such a course (assuming they are caught before grades are awarded) be cause for being flunked, expelled etc.?

    Or, are those courses already in most colleges’ curricula and overflowing with takers?

  6. I wonder what sort of cheating was involved. It seems like the sort of course that would require papers, and unless I’m mistaken, plagiarism is all but impossible to get away with in a professor is paying attention.

  7. Joke classes are here to stay. They have to be because the high schools teach nothing by bad habits. We have to teach what cheating is because studies show 97+% cheat in high school. They don’t know what cheating is anymore. They don’t know when or how to cite sources in papers. They don’t know how to use quotes. Expelling freshmen for the slightest plagiarism would be disastrous. I have to give half of them plagiarism warnings and penalties just because they don’t understand.

    Most colleges now teach Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, and Trigonometry. Most teach a full year of remedial physics before traditional freshman-level college physics. Remedial chemistry, English, computers, study skills, you name it. I often joke that we just need to accept the students at 14, right out of junior high because they don’t learn anything except how to cheat and not learn in high school. We already have all the high school classes in college. It would be better for us to teach them the high school material in 2 years rather than the high schools not teaching it to them in 4.

    • Why disastrous? It would clear the colleges of students who have no business being there, and who will be dangers to society unless their proclivities are stopped with brio. Disastrous to the college’s bottom line, perhaps.

      • This experiment has already been done. When you have expulsion as the only penalty, only a few cases are tried each year, mostly for show and cheating is rampant. UVA has proved this. When you have lighter penalties, you have hundreds of cases pursured each year, like Virginia Tech.

        You have to remember, holding academic standards is the opposite of what government is mandating. The government and media expectation is that all children will go to college, graduate, and get a fabulous job in whatever field of study they chose. As they mandate higher college attendance and graduation rates, as they mandate equality of outcomes for all racial groups, economic groups, regardless of prior preparation, academic standards are looked on as archaic, racist, and antiprogress. Basically, absolute academic standards are regarded the same way anti-sodomy laws are.

        • How well I remeber the UVA “honor” system. I don’t remember which year it was–it might have been my first year in law school there–but members of the football team were acquitted of stealing sodas out of a drink machine which had malfunctioned on the basis that they didn’t relaize that stealing sodas was a honor code violation. Some things never change.

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