What happens when you mix grade-conscious students in a competitive program with an unproctored test? The results of a seven-year investigation of College of Engineering students suggest that the answer is cheating. While the College of Engineering’s honor code is admirable for its idealism, the propensity of cheating requires a more rigorous system to bring fairness and honesty back into the college.

Angela Cesere

For more than 92 years, the College of Engineering’s honor code has been a hallmark of trust. By allowing students to take tests that aren’t supervised, the code is designed to breed a graduating class that takes responsibility for its actions and recognizes the importance of hard work. Violations of the code are supposed to be reported to the Engineering Honor Council for investigation and punishment.

However, the investigation into engineering students’ cheating by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching suggests that the code may not be living up to its lofty principles. The report claims that nearly nine out of 10 students in the engineering program admitted to cheating, and most rationalized cheating as acceptable if they felt the teacher was inadequate. Of the violations that are reported, critics claim professors and administrators often overlook them and marginalize those who speak out.

When students are cheating, their work doesn’t reflect their effort. The quality of the graduates the school turns out suffers. Such grade inflation could harm honest students because much of the grading in the engineering school is done on a curve. The artificially inflated grades also call into question the quality of teaching at this highly ranked engineering school.

Worst of all, however, is that unqualified students could graduate and be placed in positions of great responsibility. The thought of unqualified engineers making it through college because of their clever cheating methods should send chills down anyone’s spine. One inflated grade in a thermodynamics course could mean the difference between your vehicle moving comfortably around a bend or landing in a ditch upside-down.

The solution is simple. The only thing the College of Engineering needs to do to curtail cheating is simply put a proctor in the room. Measures like proctoring tests can improve the fairness of testing for all students and come at a very small cost.

If instances of cheating are decreased through commonplace, basic monitoring in these courses, professors can also get the added bonus of accurately seeing what concepts their students don’t understand and can alter their teaching methods accordingly.

In a perfect world, students would be responsible and trustworthy, wealth would be distributed equally and cars would produce fresh water instead of carbon emissions. But that just does not reflect reality. Although cheating is deplorable and students should know better, the University should not make it so easy.

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