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Karen Allendoerfer ravena at cco.caltech.edu
Mon Nov 17 12:42:20 EST 1997

After reading all these complaints about unethical students, I feel as if
some balance is needed here.

Has anyone considered the tone that the professor sets in the class, and
takes towards the students?  People seem to be complaining a lot about
how awful it is to be considered nit-picky and a tough grader, etc.  But
how clear are the rules made, beforehand?  A Chemistry professor acquaintance
of mine was just recently complaining about a "registered dyslexic" student.
This student had protested that his mis-spelling of the word "fluorine"
(as "flourine") shouldn't be marked "wrong," and he "got away with it"
because he was a registered dyslexic.  The professor referred to the idea
that dyslexics should be given any special consideration as a "scam," and 
angrily declared that the whole thing should be abolished.  He pointed out
that many non-dyslexic students had also gotten it "
wrong," and seemed to take a certain amount of glee from that fact (the
stupid students don't even know how to spell "Fluorine"--what is our
nation's youth coming to, etc. etc. etc.?).  But did he ever make a point
to tell the students that fluorine is spelled in this unusual way?  Did
he ever tell them that this was going to be important?  No, of course not.
"They should just know that."  I know that the only reason I remember
the spelling myself is that I once saw someone else (a female secretary)
being publicly humiliated by a male professor for getting that same
spelling wrong.  Her humiliation did make quite an impression on me, but
really, isn't there a better way to teach these things than getting mad
at people who don't know something when they didn't have a very good reason
to have learned it in the first place?

In the institution where I was an undergrad, we had an "honor code,"
where the students were suppposed to report other students for cheating.
Someone reported me for something I didn't do.  Fortunately, the system
worked, the evidence wasn't there, and I ended up not being formally
accused of anything, but I had several sleepless nights, fearing expulsion
and the ruination of my academic career for something that I didn't do, 
charges brought up by an unidentified accuser.  I dreaded even going to
the class for a few days, wondering who it might have been, wondering if
it was someone with an axe to grind or a grudge against me.  I never found
out who it was.

I've also heard a couple of stories from undergrads who've been working in
labs with me about overzealous professors--one who hauled a student into
his office for "cheating," threatened to fail him and/or expel him, all
over the positioning of his backpack during an exam.  I know it's sometimes
hard to know who to believe, but in that case, I believed the student.  
He had behaved ethically in lab, and the professor was known to be a bully.

One person on this thread also mentioned a professor who gave the same
problems year after year, who didn't really put in the time himself for
the class.  That reminded me of some physics labs I took that were, for 
the students, a time marathon.  There were no written lab reports later,
instead, one's notebook was graded.  One ended up rushing through the thing
in the three hours allotted, trying to finish it.  That may have kept
"cheating" to a minimum, but it didn't very well simulate what goes on
in the lab.

I'm sorry this is so rambling, but I seem to have a different perspective
from a lot of people on this thread.  In summary, it seems to me that
both students and teachers would be better served by explicitly spelling
out what the students need to know (i.e. "Fluroine" is spelled F-L-U-O)
beforehand, rather than trying to "catch" them in a mistake on a test.  
And that professors also play a role in creating an "us against them"
atmosphere in the classroom, that I see as playing a role in encouraging
cheating.  Out and out copying is of course wrong, but working together
is something that happens in science all the time.  It seems rather
artificial to force everyone to work alone and penalize them for plagarism
if they work together.  I think that systems that encourage people to
"rat on their friends," (i.e. honor codes with clauses that students should
turn each other in) are pretty problematic--again, they seem to foster
distrust and an us-against-them attitude.  Isn't it possible to give 
assignments that require and structure the students' working together,
and that are enough work that no one has time to merely "copy" the
assignment off of somebody else?


The climate that these adversarial, sometimes draconian, measures against
cheating can create doesn't seem very healthy, honestly.

Isn't there some room for treating students with respect, spelling out 
exactly what is expece
In article <346F4611.E8 at nospamsalk.edu>,
S L Forsburg <forsburg at nospamsalk.edu> wrote:
>Writes Mary Ann Sesma (msesma at ZEUS.BELL.K12.CA.US)
>>she was told by
>> another classmate that the others had used chem majors to take the
>> exam.
>When I was an undergrad at Berkeley (early 80s), when you 
>took a final for a big class such as Chem1, your blue book 
>had to have an official sticker with your name on it and 
>you had to sit with your lab section.  The sticker was 
>handed you personally by your TA, who knew you, and who proctored
>the section.  This made
>it impossible to have your exam taken by "ringers". 
>The casual attitude that students have towards cheating is
>shocking and shows a complete failure to understand the
>principles of academics.  Last year, a number of
>graduate students in my class cheated on their homework
>(by copying a previous year's key).  These people are 
>working on PhDs, and they see nothing wrong with cheating,
>because it saves them from some effort in a subject they
>weren't interested in.  
>I really wonder why they are in graduate school.  Obviously,
>they aren't very interested in learning.  Will they
>feel it's okay to make up data, because they are bored with
>doing controls?  And for the pre-meds--what sort of doctor
>will they be?  "I cheated on pharmacology", or "I didn't bother
>learning spleen". 
>A related issue is the attitude that students are owed something
>by the teacher.  I have had a number of students ask me to 
>regrade their papers, on the off chance they might get more
>points.  They seem to feel they deserve a high grade merely for 
>handing in an assignment.  I tell them that they get an A
>the same way they get an F--they earn it.  
>I am a very tough grader, and quite unpopular with  
>students as a result.  Good thing I don't teach much, and 
>don't depend on teaching evaluations.
>Any student who cheats, plagiarizes,  copies, or facilitates
>the same, should at least flunk the course in which the 
>cheating occurs.  IMHO. But as another post pointed out, 
> administrations are quite fainthearted when it comes
>down to imposing standards of this sort. 
>DON'T REPLY to the email address in header.
>It's an anti-spam.  Use the one below.
>S L Forsburg, PhD  forsburg at salk.edu
>Molecular Biology and Virology Lab          
>The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA 
>"These are my opinions.  I don't have  
>time to speak for anyone else."

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