Reclaiming Integrity

Cheating! It has become a widespread problem, not only in the business world, but in the classroom, on the playing field and in the lives of ordinary people. Right now, if we think of cheating, ...

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Cheating! It has become a widespread problem, not only in the business world, but in the classroom, on the playing field and in the lives of ordinary people. Right now, if we think of cheating, we immediately think of our financial crisis and all the dishonesty and greed that have placed our nation on the brink of financial ruin.

Our financial ruin did not just happen overnight. Unfortunately, it was developing for years because of mismanagement, selfishness, dishonesty and blatant cheating. Now innocent people are paying the price, because of a few self-absorbed, dishonest human beings. Finally people are being held accountable for their poor choices and decisions.

Our present social landscape is very troubling. There is an infectious attitude among young people that seems to tolerate various forms of cheating and dishonesty. Too many adults also minimize various forms of cheating and dishonesty among teenagers.

Too often it starts in middle school when students start cheating on exams and on homework and get away with it. If they get caught, it is usually dismissed with little or no consequence. It seems over the years that our ethical student code of conduct has gotten buried in the rubble of day-to-day living.

A student cheater shouldn't be led away in shackles and banned from athletics. However, he or she should be held accountable in some tangible way. Students need to learn early on that all forms of cheating are unacceptable and are a violation of the student code of conduct.

This also means that parents need to be held accountable for doing their children's homework, and at times, doing more than helping them with their school projects. When these circumstances go unaddressed, students get the message that it's okay! Clearly it's not okay and creates a pattern that follows students through high school and college.

It seems crazy to think that some high school students have their parents do their school projects, but it's true. A growing number of high school students see nothing wrong with doing homework together and basically copying their friend s answers. Too often, that behavior falls under the radar. Again, students are not held accountable and get the message that it is not a big deal.

Recently, there have been articles and news stories about cheating on the college level. Many of these stories have talked about what college administrations are doing in response to the growing number of students who have been found to be cheaters. The consistent perspective contained in these articles is that cheating is an epidemic issue that needs to be addressed before students begin their college careers.

Most colleges have a special freshmen class that attempts to integrate college freshmen into the college community. Those classes address a wide range of issues. One of the big issues is cheating/plagiarism. With the dawn of the Internet, there are many new concerns that have emerged in the academic community about academic honesty and integrity. As most of us know, anything can be posted on the web as authentic scholarship. Clever students can also find ready-made papers on every topic imaginable. Unfortunately, it has become too easy to pass those fraudulent assignments off as one's own.

Many colleges are taking a very serious approach to plagiarism and cheating. One local liberal arts college actually has a committee that investigates allegations of plagiarism and cheating on the part of students. If a student is found guilty, there are serious consequences. The ultimate consequence, depending on the circumstance, could be the student's dismissal from the college community.

At that same college, a history professor who supervises history majors thesis s, regularly uses a website that will analyze students work and identify any plagiarism and the source that was misrepresented. Her college community takes academic integrity very seriously. Unfortunately, as we know, that is not the case across the country within all of our colleges and universities.

As an educator for more than 35 years, the last 29 years on the college level, I teach a freshman class that is designed to integrate college freshman within the larger college community. We spend more than one class on academic integrity, plagiarism and cheating. In all of the classes that I teach, at the end of every exam, I have them write: "I do so declare," and sign their names. If they sign that statement, they are saying that they did not cheat or plagiarize on that examination.

My purpose in doing that is to continually remind them of their need to be honest and forthright when taking an examination. Unfortunately, because we live in a world that seems so casual and indifferent, when it comes to honesty and integrity, reminding them how important these issues are seems imperative. As a teacher, I take dishonesty and plagiarism very seriously and hold all of my students fully accountable for the choices and decisions that they make.

I'm sure many of you have asked yourselves, why do things seem so out of control?
Think about where you work. How often do coworkers not even hesitate to take home paper and pens without getting permission? What about other work venues, where there might be extra supplies? Good people never think twice and just help themselves to whatever is extra. It has become so commonplace that some employers actually factor those circumstances into their budget.

Another area that people don't often think about is the tax exempt area. Not-for-profit agencies, schools and bona fide churches are tax exempt. Those institutions are directed and staffed by human beings. However, it is important to note, that no person including the clergy are tax exempt. The institutions they represent and work for are, but not the individual person. So, when someone goes to purchase an item for the institution they represent, they should be clear that the item is for the institution and not for them. Too often, people take advantage of the tax exempt status and include personal items that have nothing to do with the institution they represent or work for.

We need to re-claim our integrity and honesty. We need to call those who lead us to a renewed honesty and integrity within government. We need to call our clergy to a renewed transparency and honesty as they guide us. We need to demand that our schools create a climate that is grounded in academic integrity, honesty and respect for all.

The challenge for all of us is to stay the course and be consistent even when the pressure is upon us to be inconsistent. Our young people need to know that we practice what we preach and attempt to do what we say, every day, even when it's hard. The next generation has to be held to a higher standard or we will repeat the nightmare that we are presently living. I am cautiously optimistic that this change we seek is possible. I see it beginning. Hopefully, we will support it.