Engin school confronts cheating

Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 29, 2007

When students in the College of Engineering finish an exam, they are required to write out the University honor code.

They sign their name to pledge that they didn't cheat. But according to a new study, more than a third of them are lying. In the College of Engineering, cheating on exams is particularly easy, especially if the people you're taking the exam with don't mind - tests there aren't proctored.

More than 50 engineering professors gathered in the Lurie Engineering Center Wednesday to learn why their students seem to be cheating at an alarming rate.

Cindy Finelli, the managing director of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching's branch on North Campus, presented data from seven years of research and showed videos from ABC's Primetime at the conference to show professors that cheating is a widespread problem in pre-professional colleges like business and engineering moreso than in humanities and sciences.

In one sample of engineering students at the University, 88 percent admitted to cheating at some point during their college careers.

David Munson, dean of the College of Engineering, said he found it interesting that students in some schools and colleges are more likely to cheat than students in others.

"Sometimes I think our students at the freshman and sophomore level might be concerned with grades at the expense of learning," Munson said.

Engineering junior Scott Allen said he found Finelli's presentation shocking. "I've never cheated in a class, nor have I observed any cheating during an exam," he said.

Other students weren't the least bit surprised.

One mechanical engineering student - who said she prefers to remain anonymous because she doesn't want to be ostracized by fellow students - said she was the victim of an elaborate cheating operation during a final exam. A group of students in the exam room, which had no proctor, copied her answers on the test and passed their exams around to one another, she said.

The Engineering Honor Council - which looks into alleged violations of the honor code - investigated the case. Some of the students accused of cheating were expelled. But the first-time offenders in the group were put on academic probation and allowed to remain in the college.

"It's really discouraging because they're here and there's no reason they should be," the student said.

Engineering alum Amanda Kirsch said one of her professors had to change the way she collected tests because students were copying answers on the way to hand them in.

Engineering junior Chris Van Deusen, who serves on the Honor Council, said he heard that one engineering student ripped the cover off her blue book and stapled it to another student's exam.

In a study of 11 colleges, including the University of Michigan, engineers cited problems with the instructor as the main justification for cheating. Only 21 percent of students said they disagreed with the statement "It is wrong to cheat if the instructor did an inadequate job teaching the course."

When Finelli told this to professors at the presentation, some put down their catered Cos