PJM on Colleges – and PJM Column Authors – Who Lack the Guts to Punish Cheating

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

You may have heard about the Texas prof who was fired for publicly disclosing the names of students he caught cheating. Pajamas Media carries a somewhat confessional column today in which I discuss the role of the Internet (which, contrary to popular opinion, makes cheating harder rather than easier) and the rise of educational lawsuits (which colleges have responded to by abdicating their traditional disciplinary role), but also reflect, without satisfaction, upon my own experience dealing with a cheater:

The fear of lawsuits only compounds the difficulty of what is already a difficult decision. Even with the strongest possible intellectual conviction that it’s the right thing to do, actually imposing a punishment on a fellow human being takes a certain amount of moral courage. It takes some guts.

The isolation of the teacher as the lone defender of honesty in the classroom only makes it much more difficult to do the difficult but necessary thing when the time comes. And this, again, is something I can testify about from personal experience.

I regret to say that when I confronted my cheater, I chickened out.

What I ended up doing in the end, instead of what I had resolved to do and then didn’t have the courage to do, actually might be a good model for how to deal with a cheater. Of course, I’d rather have discovered it through intelligence rather than cowardice. As C.S. Lewis says, only fools learn by experience, but at least they do learn.

2 Responses to PJM on Colleges – and PJM Column Authors – Who Lack the Guts to Punish Cheating

  1. Karl Priest says:

    Your decision was good, not cowardly.

    However, you should have stated a punishment for cheating in the class syllabus.

  2. Greg Forster says:

    You’re right, I should have. That would have made it easier to do the right thing when the time came – and I still could have imposed a lesser punishment if the cheater had passed the “confession test.”

    But the fact is that I resolved to kick the student out of the class, and when the time came, I didn’t do it – not because I had thought better of it, but because I lacked the guts. If you do the right thing for the wrong reason, it’s still the right thing and that’s worth remembering, but nonetheless your doing it lacks moral merit.

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