Sunday, November 21, 2010

And yet….

I have smoldered and simmered this past week over the cheating scandal, worrying about what it says about higher education today and where we as a country are going tomorrow. But I have also discovered I am not the only one distraught about this momentous event for our university which has ultimately tarred all of us with the brush of 200 malefactors. In this case, misery does, indeed, like company.

The students in my Encountering the Humanities course were largely of the mind that the second chance given the cheaters in the business capstone class was too lenient. Many described it as a slap on the wrist. While I’m not sure a four hour academic integrity course and the possibility of coming out of college with a disciplinary record of dishonesty is really a slap on the wrist, clearly the consequences could have been more stringent and may yet be for the handful of students located by electronic tracing who refused to admit to cheating. We shall shortly see what the university administration is made of.

What was particularly gratifying about their responses was the theme that the argument that students did not know the “study guide” they mysteriously received in email unsolicited was a means of cheating was simply unbelievable. “No one is that naive,” one remarked. And most agreed that at the point they had begun to take the exam and recognized the questions were the same, they had an obligation to report it. At least some of our university’s 56,000 students are willing to call a spade a spade here.

But what moved me most this past week was the short conversation I had with a former student who is now a resident advisor in one of the dorms. This is a bright young man with LSAT scores high enough to get him into top ranked law schools but now becoming concerned that the name UCF on his diploma might actually work to his detriment.

One of the major newspapers sent a reporter to campus last week to do a story on the cheating scandal. My student was one of the many interviewed. But what became clear to him almost immediately is that the reporter did not want to hear about the accomplishments of honest students or the candor with which most recognized the problem with cheating. Instead, the reporter sought the dirt, the juicy quotes from “slackers” (my student’s description). “It was a hack job from the very beginning,” he said.

The problem is, he said, is that these students don’t represent the university. And they don’t represent the student body. There will always be cheaters and those seeking to take the easy way out. But most of the students he had talked with recognized the problem with cheating and what such behaviors say about the character of those involved. “It really makes me angry,” he said, “to be misrepresented by the business students who cheated. It’s not fair to those of us who would never cheat.”

It is heartening to hear this. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that slackers who provide sound bites to local media suggesting that everyone cheats somehow speak for an entire generation. They don’t. But it only be when the students thus misrepresented themselves speak out that this generalization will be brought into question.

There are days when I hold out a little hope that what I do makes a difference in the world and that the students I teach offer some hope for a better future than the current sense so many of us have that higher education is devolving into factories producing amoral working drones. Thank you, students for the reality check. You have your work cut out for you.


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

1 comment:

Amy said...

"And most agreed that at the point they had begun to take the exam and recognized the questions were the same, they had an obligation to report it."

But I think you'd agree that this doesn't mean any of them would actually report it. And I say this as someone who might as well have "Scrupulously Ethical" stamped right under the summa cum laude on my UCF diploma: This is a school that rewards you for keeping your head down. Reporting something is a great way to get in trouble.