Commitment to Honor

Commitment to Honor

Why We Value Integrity: The Culture of Cheating is Growing

Data has shown a clear trajectory over recent years: the amount of cheating in schools and universities has been increasing. Certainly there has always been some amount of academic misconduct, but studies suggest the overall problem is worsening. 

In 2012, the New York Times ran an article that read, in part: 

“I don’t think there’s any question that students have become more competitive, under more pressure, and, as a result, tend to excuse more from themselves and other students, and that’s abetted by the adults around them,” said Donald L. McCabe, a professor at the Rutgers University Business School, and a leading researcher on cheating.

“There have always been struggling students who cheat to survive,” he said. “But more and more, there are students at the top who cheat to thrive.”

The culture of cheating extends beyond the classroom, of course. One only has to think about athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs, or the 2019 instance of rich parents (including some celebrities!) who paid illegally to gain admission to top colleges for their children. 

While such reports are concerning for professors and administrators, they should be equally upsetting for students. If a culture of being lax on cheating were to spread at an institution, it would create an unfair situation where some students work hard to earn the same accomplishments that other students were handed through a shortcut.

Think about your hypothetical reactions if you witnessed a student cheating on a test (or plagiarizing a paper or falsifying lab numbers), then you reported it to the professor, and the professor believed you but decided to do nothing about it because ignoring it was easier that  starting a fuss. You'd likely experience a range of emotions, with frustration, injustice, and even anger being understandable possibilities. 

There are many different scenarios like the one above that point out the injustice of cheating at an individual level. Ignoring cheating  or avoiding efforts to prevent it is just not fair to those who do the work, and we should all therefore feel the same righteous indignation when cheating DOES occur around us. 

In fact, for reasons both moral and practical, we shouldn't tolerate it. Any instances of integrity violations should be reported, not ignored. Seething privately may reduce the need for uncomfortable confrontations, but it does nothing to address the injustice of the cheating infraction. 


Institutional Reputation

Academic integrity matters even beyond the individual injustice of isolated incidents. One incident at a time, they punch devastating holes in our national and international reputation. 

Consider an extreme example. Let's imagine an institution that only offers online classes, and because of technology limitations it does not have adequate ways to counter cheating during online classes. As a result, the institution slowly acquires a reputation of being an easy way to get a bachelor's degree. Do we consider it possible that an employer, having heard of this reputation, might hesitate to hire a recent graduate as a new employee? When that happens, the recent graduate has unfairly lost an opportunity because of the institutional reputation.

How the institution (and your program) is viewed in the community, by employers, and by other graduate schools is critical for your success. 


Cheating Yourself

You've probably heard it before: engaging in cheating is really just "cheating yourself." But what does that really mean? Let's consider a few scenarios: 

  1. The stats class in one program has a reputation among students of being really hard, so hard that it is seen by all students as unfair. Student X rationalizes that he can always look up statistical tests online once he has his real job, and the difficult class is just a hurdle he has to overcome and then he'll have an easy time of it. So he cheats on every exam without bothering to study, which creates enough spare time that he can study extra for his OTHER classes, and has a great GPA as a result.
  2. Student Y is having a hard time making the results of her science lab correspond with expectations. Since she feels confident in her knowledge of the basic science, she concludes that it's OK to adjust (or even invent) numbers that match the expectations
  3. Through long practice, Student Z has figured out how to beat the plagiarism detectors, and now writes most of his essays by copy-pasting large amounts of material from different sources, stitching them together, and adjusting wording so the automatic detector doesn't notice the similarities. This kind of activity got him through high school, so he intends to continue it as a college student. 

By now you've hopefully had the intended internal response to these scenarios: all three students are cheating themselves because they are not actually using their time at USF to learn, grow, develop, make mistakes, develop further, refine, and reflect. They are missing the main point, and their lack of information and experience will create hurdles in their professional lives.

Student X is committing the common error of assuming that only the diploma matters. In fact, the learning is what is supposed to matter. Assuming Student X is able to graduate through cheating, he won't be able to perform these tasks and skills in a job, and will certainly limit his employment (and advancement) possibilities. 

Student Y is similarly focused on life after graduation, not the actual learning and skill development intended in her courses. By not developing the skills now, she is robbing herself in the future of real opportunities. Furthermore, she is likely deluding herself about her supposed understanding of the science. If she cannot get the experiment to run as expected, is not possible her understanding is flawed? 

Student Z is in for a rude awakening once hired by an employer. People who plagiarize frequently are eventually caught, and the aftermath is often career ending. Additionally, Student Z is playing a very dangerous game with the plagiarism software, which updates its algorithms and logic frequently. It only takes getting caught once to ruin the entire student career. 

Underlying these examples is a practice, perhaps a habit, of taking shortcuts and cutting corners. These are not desirable traits to an employer and would certainly seem to encourage a mindset of a poor work ethic. Over time, this will absolutely degrade a worker's ability to obtain promotions and raises. Hence, students who cheat really are cheating themselves. 

The ultimate ethical message, of course, is that a person with integrity will resist the temptation to cheat, even if if it's easy or others are doing it also. Your behaviors betray your character, personal morals, and credibility. At the end of the day, having academic integrity is the RIGHT thing to do.


USF's Commitment to Honor

As an ethical community, the University of South Florida is dedicated to the ideals of excellence in student development, academic learning, scholarship and research. By joining this community, each member is expected to accept and live these commitments.

I resolve to maintain the honor and integrity of the university community in pursuit of student development, academic learning, scholarship and research.

Living the Commitment: A commitment to this resolution upholds our core values of honesty, diligence and trust within our academic and professional lives. This means that authentic and sincere efforts motivate our work while we strive for genuine, trustworthy interactions.

I resolve to respect the dignity and intrinsic value of all persons.

Living the Commitment: A commitment to this resolution requires appreciation for another's personal right to explore freely, to express oneself responsibly, and to participate actively in building an environment of mutual respect and inclusion for each individual. This means that we will support equal rights and opportunities for all people, while exhibiting behaviors which are compassionate and considerate to others.

I resolve to contribute to the progress and greater good of the community.

Living the Commitment: A commitment to this resolution motivates us to serve the University with words and actions that generate a positive impact on the future of the whole community. This means that active and creative thought and contributions within a collegial environment will expand both the nature and scope of knowledge and the quality of community life.

I resolve to strive for excellence and discovery for myself, others, and the University.

Living the Commitment: A commitment to this resolution confirms the shared values that make the University a strong community. We hold high expectations for our own academic and professional work. Concurrently, we endeavor to support the success of others as we all seek to contribute to the mission of the University.