Young liars

According to a report by The Associated Press last week, the trend of the past year in academia wasn’t related to tragedy, like Virginia Tech, or breakthroughs, like Harvard’s first woman president. It was dishonesty.

According to a report by The Associated Press last week, the trend of the past year in academia wasn’t related to tragedy, like Virginia Tech, or breakthroughs, like Harvard’s first woman president. It was dishonesty.

In the past year, 46 medical students at Indiana University were disciplined for cheating on an exam, as well as 34 MBA students at Duke. These were more high-profile cases among a rash of others, and it’s just the latest in a trend that’s been active for years.

Tim Dodd, executive director for the Center of Academic Integrity, said research shows 20 to 25 percent of undergraduates admitting to five or more instances of cheating. He said, “The fact that we have a quarter or more of our students admitting they’ve engaged in serial cheating does not inspire a lot of confidence about the credibility of their degrees.”

Donald McCabe, a Rutgers professor who’s studied cheating for decades, said, “I’m past the ‘epidemic’ language. I’ve been looking at this for so long I’m used to it.”

And it hasn’t just been students who’ve been dishonest.

Not only did a popular dean of admissions at MIT hand in her resignation after admitting that she had made up her r퀌�sum퀌� when she first applied to work there, but a report by the think-tank The New American Foundation coupled with an investigation by the New York attorney general revealed that students might not have been getting reliable financial aid advice from school officials.

Numerous financial aid officers across the country have been found to have conflicting interests with loan companies and therefore gave tainted advice to students. I will freely embrace my bias as a student and say that is criminal. The University of Texas even gave the boot to their financial aid director last Monday as a result of these findings. Kudos to them for no tolerance.

As tuition gets more and more expensive and the requirements for a college diploma to even attain middle-class status increase, the stakes for grades, admissions and financial aid are getting dizzily high.

The increase in competitive mindset can be chalked up, at least partially, to a change in parenting attitude that is unique to new generations. Henry Giroux, famous for his work in critical pedagogy, had this to say in an article published in 1998:

“Parents used to be concerned with the ethical behavior of kids. A decade ago, when kids got home from school their parents asked them if they were good. Now because of the new economic realities of downsizing and deindustrialization, parents are fearful that their kids will be losers… The question kids get when they come in the 1990s is no longer ‘Have you been good?’ but ‘Did you win?'”

Kids today are being marginalized. More children are spending more time home alone at younger ages, while more pressure is being put on them to succeed and do well. Just look at all the pre-kindergarten tutoring programs. Just look at the fact that pre-kindergarten tutoring programs even exist.

Through all this, teaching ethics falls by the wayside. Parents are spending less time passing on the values they wish their kids to have, and more time laying pressure on them to “succeed,” which has started to become a very loaded word.

Giroux goes on to say, “As market relations expand their control over public space, corporations increasingly provide the public spheres for children to experience themselves as consuming subjects and commodities with limited opportunities to learn how to develop their full range of intellectual and emotional capacities to be critical citizens.”

Harsh words, but it’s hard to deny their truth. Children are learning to live their lives via corporate media, as it permeates every part of their life, including school. So no wonder they learn to let the ends justify the means.

The continuing spike of dishonest behavior in academia reflects all of this, and colleges aren’t doing much to combat it. And why should they? Disciplining students for cheating takes a lot of time and money that most schools don’t have, and nobody wants to expel students when a lot of colleges are fighting just to attract them there in the first place.

So what can we do? The first and simpler part of the solution is to crack down on academic dishonesty. I’m not saying we should expel anybody who’s found guilty of cheating, but discipline does need to be active and vigilant across the country.

Marvin Kaiser, our own dean of liberal arts and sciences here at PSU, and executive director for the Society and Values in Higher Education, said, “We ought to hold people to those kinds of standards, and higher education ought to be scrutinized around that agenda.” Yes, yes it definitely should.

The second and harder part of the solution is to teach our children right from the get-go that cheating is not OK, and it’s OK if they don’t win ’em all. Our society is set up to put such incredible pressure on kids right out of the womb that one of the first dichotomies they learn is that of success and failure.

It’s not OK, and we need to combat that by leading by example and showing new generations how to live a considered honest lifestyle, however we decide that needs to be done as parents.

“We have to be role models ourselves,” said Kaiser. “We have to create expectations about what it means to be ethical and honest. It’s about our behavior and how we run our own institutions, but also what kind of populace we’re creating for the future.”