The Ethicist Tackles Cheating, Again

In yesterday’s New York Times, the Ethicist tackled another letter from a young ‘un who was witnessing a colleague cheating and wondered what to do. This time, the two students are seniors (last time the cheating involved the entrance exams to prestige high schools and a merry band of cheating middle-schoolers). One senior has seen his/her best friend cheating on tests and plagiarizing work (several times). The cheating best friend says that it is not cheating but “outsmarting the system.”

In response, the Ethicist recommends saying nothing because “That would get you in trouble with your peers and violate the norms of friendship.” Besides, adds the Ethicist, the cheater “has already lost out. When your putative successes are faked, you’re not entitled to self-respect.” There’s more, “Worse, his cheating amounts to abusing the trust of others and fraying the social bonds that sustain us. To cheat, after all, is to take advantage of students who don’t.”

How exactly does the Ethicist think norms are created? By tolerated behaviors, which is how we got into the cheating thing in the first place. Without consequences, yes, the norms shift. The issue is: Which way do you want the norms shifting to more cheating or less? How does remaining quiet and threatening cheaters with loss of self-respect instill fear in the hearts of high-schoolers?

By saying nothing, this best friend sets up his/her cheating best friend for a comeuppance at some point that will be far more consequential. The Barometer’s advice? Talk to the friend one more time — discuss disclosure, threaten disclosure, suggest voluntary disclosure, and explain why remaining best friends is dangerous for both of them. One because of guilt by association (others have, without a doubt, seen the cheating — perhaps participating as well) and the other because they are now and forever prisoners of each other. One knows about the cheating and the other knows about his/her tolerance. Those who know each other’s failures to act know secrets untold and acts unconfessed that bind them forever in deception and distrust. That’s the fabric of friendship, eh?

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.
This entry was posted in News and Events. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.