Every day I spent as a freshman completing the LSA language requirement was like an adventure straight out of a Spaghetti Western.

I, along with hundreds of others, would herd through the corral of the Modern Language Building basement. The floors accumulated so much dust that it clumped together (with several strands of hair) and rolled around like tumbleweed. We were a motley crew of students — some city slickers, some country folk, but all overachievers and desperados gunning for perfection with the occasional senior whose graduation hinged upon a C- in the class.

At any rate, we were concerned about our grades, and most of us had no intention of pursuing a foreign language, even as a minor. Being the outlaws that we were, it should come as no surprise that some of us cheated. After all, teachers used the same exams semester after semester (believe me, I know). It was not uncommon for an upperclassman to keep an old French exam on file to lend to friends.

My real surprise is that very few were ever caught. Few academic integrity violations are reported by departments at the University. This could be for several reasons: professors might choose to handle cheating without reporting it to the Dean, or they might not be catching students. Truth be told, this problem of underreported cheating occurs in almost every department.

But why did we cheat in the first place?

We cheated because we could. It was easy to get our hands on tests from past students. Many introductory classes are classes that most students have to take. When professors use the same tests year after year, there are many answer sheets floating around. If the answers are online, it makes it even easier — you don’t even need to know someone who previously took the course. Outlaws never had it so easy.

We cheated because we did not respect the course.

If professors don’t vary the subject material each year and use examples and notes that are just taken from textbook publishers, students have less incentive to actually put in extra work for a fair grade. When professors design uninteresting courses, we do not think the class is worth our while.

Students have responsibilities, too, and I’m not trying to shift all the blame to the professors. I understand it’s difficult and time-consuming to change syllabi each year, and even if they are changed, there’s no guarantee that every student in the class will find the material worthy of an honest effort.

But when professors update their material and show they are truly passionate about their lessons, students cannot help but buy into the professors’ vision. It is then, when teachers increase the effort they put into educating, that students face a serious challenge in legitimizing their cheating and are thus less likely to do it.

In cases when it’s difficult to detect cheating, professors’ passion for their material will still go a long way to discourage this activity. A successful professor would be as open as possible with students in explaining the realities of cheating and encouraging students to take the learning process seriously. They would not simply say that “cheating is bad, don’t do it or let me catch you doing it.”

Active educators might put an end to the academic outlaw.

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