As an investigation into a 125-person Harvard University cheating scandal progresses, a national focus has been placed on concerns about widespread cheating and how to prevent it at universities across the country.
At USC, administrators said they deal with cheating through the use of preventative software and academic consequences. Despite this deterrent, there have been 291 reported cases of academic dishonesty during the 2011-12 school year.
The most common punishment for cheating is a grade of an ‘F’ in the course, regardless of whether the incident was premeditated or a lapse in judgment, according to Raquel Torres-Retana, the assistant dean of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards.
The Harvard Crimson reported that nearly half of the 279 students enrolled in a government introductory course last spring are currently being investigated for “allegedly plagiarizing answers or inappropriately collaborating” on last spring’s take-home final exam.
Daniel Mathews, a junior majoring in economics, said the cause of cheating could stem from the notion that students have more pressure to do well in school to make their future more secure.
“It’s a risk-versus-reward analysis,” Mathews said. “Do the benefits of cheating and doing well on this paper outweigh the risk of getting caught? And for the people who do cheat, the answer is clearly yes.”
Kimberly Su, a junior majoring in mathematics, echoed Matthews’ sentiment.
“Now, everyone is so focused to get a decent job after you graduate and getting to the next part of their life,” Su said. “For some people, they think cheating gets them to that point.”
The cheating scandal at Harvard has triggered awareness at universities across the country, causing schools to look for more stable safeguards against academic dishonesty.
At USC’s Gould School of Law, Jane Chang Bright, the assistant director of student computing services, oversees the use of SofTest, a program designed to prevent students from cheating.
“The software basically turns your computer into a typewriter, which brings about a secure exam mode. All of our exams are secured,” Chang Bright said. “All of the bar exams, the 42 states that use SofTest — those are all in secure mode. [Students] can’t get to the Internet, can’t get to their online notes, can’t open PDFs, can’t instant message with anybody.”
The digital age has brought about new techniques for preventing cheating across campuses, according to Bright.
“Now everything is done over the Internet: installations over the Internet, upload of exam files when [students] are done, everything,” Chang Bright said.