“Rapscallions, Scoundrels and Scallywags (aka College Students)”


by P.D. Lesko and Elizabeth J. Carter

In the January/February 1994 issue of Adjunct Advocate, we interviewed Dr. Donald McCabe, then Founding President of the Center for Academic Integrity (CAI). When we interviewed Dr.
McCabe, his Center had just 50 member schools. We talked to him about his groundbreaking research into academic dishonesty among college students. At that time, Dr. McCabe told us that 67 percent of the over 6,000 students on 14 campuses who filled out his 1993 survey had reported cheating at least once during college. He also said that “19 percent [of undergraduates] said they cheated on four or more tests, qualifying as regular cheaters.”

Today, a dozen years later, Dr. McCabe still researches student cheating, but he no longer heads the Center for Academic Integrity. The Center’s membership has grown more slowly than Dr. McCabe had predicted it would in his 1994 interview. CAI currently has 390 institution members, including colleges in Canada and Australia. To look at that number another way, about eight percent of eligible American colleges and universities have institutional membership in the Center for Academic Integrity.

Mark Hyatt serves as the President of the Center’s Executive Board of Directors, and Dr. Timothy Dodd is the organization’s Executive Director. Adjunct Advocate interviewed them in response to the CAI’s most recent (2005) student survey results (encompassing responses from 50,000 students on 60 campuses).

The data from that survey are disturbing: on most campuses, 70 percent of students admit to some cheating, and 77 percent of students who responded didn’t believe that plagiarizing information from the Internet was a serious issue. More students are cheating and more students are, what Dr. McCabe described in 1994, “regular cheaters.”

Who’s to blame? Certainly, students must be held accountable. But what about college administrators, parents and professors? Then again, perhaps, we’re still just that nation of liars, cheaters, frauds and scofflaws – those slicker-than-oil rapscallions whose escapades Mark Twain chronicled in both his fiction and nonfiction.

What’s to be done? In 1994, Dr. McCabe told us that “only five percent of students who attend schools with honor codes admit to cheating on tests often.” Today, according to the Center’s website, “Serious test cheating on campuses with honor codes is typically 1/3 to 1/2 lower than the level on campuses that do not have honor codes.”

In 1994, we asked Dr. McCabe if he saw a solution to cheating. He responded thusly: “I do not believe we will ever eradicate cheating. However, comments provided by hundreds…of students participating in my survey make me optimistic concerning the future. The majority of students seem to be of the mind that the problem must be addressed and seem to be willing to participate in this process.”

Based on the results of the Center’s 2005 survey, one wonders if the student comments, upon which Dr. McCabe based that answer, were honest responses. – P.D. Lesko, Executive Editor

Q: Tell our readers a bit about yourself and how you got involved with the Center for Academic Integrity.

[Mark Hyatt] Earlier in my career I ran the honor system at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Later, I was Director of the Center for Character Development, which included academic integrity and many other aspects of character and leadership education. I served for three years on the Board of Directors for Character Education Partnership. My role as President of the Board of Directors is to provide vision, strategic planning, financial expertise, and leadership for the Board of Directors and paid staff members located at Duke University.

[Timothy Dodd] I have served as the Executive Director of the Center since January, 2005. Prior to coming to the CAI, I was the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies at Case Western Reserve University for 8 ½ years. My duties included directing the major department advising program, advising students on curricular and policy matters, certifying all undergraduate degrees, serving as the faculty representative for the Truman and Udall Scholarship programs, and writing and updating university curriculum handbooks and other official publications. While there, I spearheaded the process that led to the adoption of the new academic integrity policy at Case and was the adviser to the student academic integrity board, which I founded. I also served on the university judicial board.

Q. Why is cheating rampant in higher education? Don’t Americans know cheating is wrong?

[Mark Hyatt] Dr. McCabe’s research has been supported by surveys sponsored by the Michael Josephson Institute and others. They show that as pressure increases to perform – so does cheating. The high school students destined for top colleges and universities admit to cheating in the 80-90 percent range. Americans know cheating is wrong, but our culture is one of winning. Vince Lombardi said: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” I think Vince was absolutely wrong, but he sums up how many feel – “It’s not cheating unless we get caught and the ends justify the means.” This thinking has helped lead to some of the most catastrophic leadership failures in our nation’s history. Most leadership failures seem to be character failures.

Q. Are we just a society full of frauds, or is cheating a problem that rears its ugly head in certain areas of our society, in higher education, for example?

[Mark Hyatt] I think it is mostly an education problem. Having worked in education from the kindergarten through Ivy League university levels–we are not consistently educating our students on what constitutes cheating. Institutional teachers and professors at all levels tell me that in many cases it’s too hard for them to confront students with their ethical transgressions. Many teachers and professors feel that “they” go on trial when parents hire lawyers to investigate all aspects of these cases. So many times we have very little or inconsistent accountability for breaches.

Q. Has the Center done any research on cheating among graduate and professional students? If 70 percent of undergrads are cheaters, are 70 percent of graduate and professional students cheating their way to ordination, medical diplomas, law degrees and Ph.D.s?

[Timothy Dodd] The Center has not conducted any surveys on graduate and professional school cheating. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some research out there. One study demonstrated that physicians who were cited for professional misconduct were more likely to have incurred disciplinary and academic infractions as undergraduates than physicians not cited for misconduct. A few studies have also linked ethical misconduct in the workplace to patterns of academic misconduct in the school years. And recently a survey was released on scientific misconduct that showed that a very small percentage of scientists engage in what would be considered significant scientific misconduct but also revealed that a third admit to taking some “shortcuts” in the grants application/presentation of findings processes.  Habits carry on through a lifetime but as the stakes — career, family, professional reputation — increase, the rates of misconduct go way down.

Q. How do you explain the fact that even though a good many college students cheat, that there are still some students who don’t?

[Mark Hyatt] Becoming a person of character begins in our families and lasts a lifetime. Commitment and accountability are the foundations for integrity. I can’t remember when I first cheated as a boy, but I can remember the day I committed to not cheating, lying, or stealing, and it was the day I raised my right hand as an 18 year-old freshman at the U.S. Air Force Academy and swore to live by a strict code of honor. Just like speed limits on highways don’t guarantee everyone will adhere to the limits, research shows that limits do reduce speed and save lives. I think honor codes reduce cheating.

Q. In your opinion, do educated people cheat with more or less frequency than people without the advantage of a higher education? Are there disciplines or fields of studies in which students are less likely to cheat? Are religious studies/theology students academic angels, for instance?

[Timothy Dodd] In high school and college, there is a bit of a bimodal distribution of cheating with the highest rates reported at the high achiever and low ability ends of the spectrum.  That makes sense: high achievers feel pressure to avoid failure at any cost and low ability students often don’t know how to study and write papers and will cheat just to pass.  As a rule, disciplines that evaluate performance as the ability to analyze, synthesize and individualize knowledge will show lower rates of cheating and plagiarism than fields that rely on standardized tests, canned labs, and descriptive research. Also, class size, the importance and relevance of subject matter to interests, and the professional respect and personal regard that faculty earn are important contributors to a climate of integrity. A student is far less likely to cheat or plagiarize in his or her eight-person senior seminar in Afro-Caribbean Literature conducted by an instructor who professes the importance of academic integrity in his or her life and mentors the learning and writing processes than in a 750 seat introduction to chemistry class in which the teacher rarely asks questions and uses the same exams every year.

Q. How is it that college students can simply ignore the fact that cheating is wrong?

[Mark Hyatt] In my opinion, most students who cheat are good people who have not committed themselves to doing the right thing. Many times they have failed to prepare properly, and they seek an easy way out. Admitting we are not prepared is difficult for many. Procrastination is standard at the highest levels because high performing students are usually very busy in all aspects of their lives. Combine that with pressure to do well by parents and institutions – and we have a recipe for disaster.

Q. Who is most likely to cheat?

[Mark Hyatt] In the higher income brackets, there are higher expectations for success. Magnet schools for gifted and talented students have high rates of parental and administrator involvement. This is mostly good–but can lead to tremendous pressure on students to cheat. The national movement emphasizing standardized high-stakes testing has netted many “irregularities” by teachers “allowing” students to gain unfair advantage so that test scores will be higher. These scores are posted in newspapers and can determine future employment of faculty, staff, and administrators. Many times there are financial rewards associated with test scores both for teachers and students going on to college.

Q. Are colleges and universities with honor codes less likely to face cheating scandals?

[Mark Hyatt] Cheating is being researched and studied more in recent years as we look for ways to address corporate, government, and military transgressions. But there have been cheating scandals at institutions having honor codes spread throughout the past century.

Q. If a student cheats in college, is that student likely to graduate, go out into the workplace and behave dishonestly, as well? If so, this might explain why there are college faculty who plagiarize, and college administrators who can’t produce honest CVs!

[Mark Hyatt] Aristotle had it right. We first have to know what is right, then to be considered “good people” we need to voluntarily do what is right. Then most important, is doing the right thing over and over again so that it becomes a habit. The research shows we are on the wrong track. We need major culture changes in our educational institutions if we hope to keep America on track. Many of our top leaders have failed to commit themselves to being people of good character. Moreover, when they are confronted with failures – many do not take responsibility for their actions and try to blame others. The best chance we have of becoming people of good character is to go to schools with high standards of character. We should join organizations that stand for good things: Scouts, faith based youth groups, 4-H, Future Farmers of America, etc. We should choose friends who are good and have the moral courage to hold us accountable.

Q. In your opinion, could colleges and universities do a better job of stressing the importance of academic integrity?

[Mark Hyatt] Yes, universities should address academic integrity from the first correspondence with potential students to speeches at college graduation. Integrity starts at the top with the President and flows down to all faculty, staff, and students. Everywhere the students go, they should be running into people who are encouraging them to do the right thing. Everyone including custodians, Deans, bus drivers, interns, and professors should be integrating integrity and character across the entire curriculum and campus activities. Yes I agree that this “culture of character and integrity” needs to start at home, as early as possible and continue over a lifetime. None of us are too old to get better.

Q. What can colleges, universities and faculty do to help stem the tide of student cheating?

[Mark Hyatt] The solution involves creating an environment that encourages students to act with integrity even when no one is looking. A comprehensive and integrated academic integrity program across all aspects of student life will have impact.

Q. Our publication surveyed its readers last year, and found that 20 percent of them admitted to cheating in college. Has the Center done surveys/research regarding cheating among faculty members?

[Timothy Dodd] The Center has not conducted any research on academic misconduct within the professional scholar ranks.  The Chronicle of Higher Education presented a series of articles in December, 2004 that brought the issue to the fore (and exposed a number of cases of faculty plagiarism.)  I believe the tide is turning in this area and college and university administrations are more aware of and taking action against plagiarism in the faculty ranks. But there still seems to be a double standard: in too many instances, uncovered plagiarism that would warrant the suspension or expulsion of an undergraduate is too often mildly censured or disciplined in the faculty ranks.

Q. What do think about sanctions and consequences for children (and adults) who cheat?

[Mark Hyatt] I believe in graduated sanctions for integrity and character infractions. When students are young, we need to create “teachable moments” when cheating is discovered. The stakes should go up as experience increases. By the time we become professors, teachers, or administrators we should face harsher consequences for bad behavior.

Q. Who should join CAI and why? What are CAI’s future plans?

[Mark Hyatt] I think all academic institutions should be members of CAI. This includes secondary schools, junior colleges, universities, and graduate schools. CAI’s primary goals should be raising academic integrity awareness by recruiting members, act as a clearinghouse for all research and resources associated with academic integrity. Lastly, CAI should continue to host an annual conference to share the latest “best practices” from member institutions that excel in providing graduates with integrity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.