The Ethicist’s Analysis of Cheating

A middle-school young ‘un wrote into The New York Times“The Ethicist” column (Sunday, February 11, 2018), which appears courtesy of Kwame Anthony Appaiah. This poor little soul had witnessed friends cheating on a test when the teacher left the room.

Barometer note: What teacher in his/her right mind leaves a room during an exam? The urchins have absolutely no compunction about cheating. Opportunity and need — the motivations for both fraud and cheating. Their need is academic success. The teacher afforded the opportunity. Never leave the little cherubs unattended during exams, quizzes, PE class, and anything else in middle school.

The young student asked her friends to stop cheating, and they told her to “lay off.”

Barometer note: One suspects that “lay off” was soft language for another phrase.

The friends did not stop cheating, and this young student wanted to know whether to report the cheaters to the teacher.

The advice from the Ethicist: No, because it might cost them their admission into prestigious high schools. And, “losing a place at a prestigious high school can be a big deal in our society, where educational opportunity is unfairly distributed.”

Barometer note: Oh, let me get this straight. Admitting those who cheat the best is a way of fixing said injustices?

The advice from the Ethicist: No, because whistleblowers often suffer. And because the school had no honor code, there was no requirement to blow the whistle. Besides, considering the impact of reporting the students on young your life is as important as considering the impact of reporting the cheaters.

Barometer note: The sooner cheaters are found, given due process, and forced to face consequences, the less likely they are to end up with the types of sanctions that will come as their chutzpah (born of getting away with it) increases. Why must we assume that reporting them is a bad thing with only negative consequences? Save a life; report a cheater.

The advice from the Ethicist: Write a letter to alert the school to cheating generally. Suggest that teachers stay in the room.

Barometer note: Report fellow students who cheat and we might reach a point where the presence or absence of the teacher will be irrelevant in levels of academic integrity. Nothing that is meaningful or important ever comes easy.

Last Barometer note: It never occurred to the Ethicist to think of alternatives. Tell the students that either they can self-report or be reported. Sometimes backing cheaters into a corner is the only way.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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