Cheating: an offence against society

Oxford Dictionaries Online defines ‘inventive’ as “having the ability to create or design new things or to think originally”. For a killer example of word usage ‘total fail’, go no further than this article, released today on Stuff.co.nz, about cheating in NZ unis.

After outlining how unis are going to ‘crack down’ on cheating this year, the article offers “Roll of Shame”, a ranked list of unis in descending order of cases of academic misconduct in 2012. It then provides a list of some of 2012’s favoured strategies, which include: using iPhones in exams, taking in unauthorised notes (on paper, in calculators, on limbs), hiding notes in a toilet, forging medical certificates, trying to bribe markers.

Based on the article’s title, I’d expected a list of ingenious new cheating tactics. I had expected to learn a thing or two about cutting-edge cheating technology. I was disappointed. 2012’s cheating strategies are drearily the same as 2011’s, and 2010’s. They are the same sort of cheating strategies that have been around as long as there has been assessment to cheat in. The only differences in approach come from the new advantages afforded to cheaters through changing technology.

I was thrilled to be disappointed. While I’d hoped for news, I’d got none, and that means that the nature of a uni cheater remains unchanged. Cheaters aren’t inventive. They’re not creative masters of ingenuity, shrewd adapters of ‘the system’. Aside from the hypothetical few who construct intelligent ways to feign intelligence and get away with it (and who are therefore walking paradoxes who almost certainly don’t exist), cheaters are lazy, stupid and tediously unoriginal. They don’t (can’t? won’t?) think and put in place measures to ensure that they can still get the rewards that the real thinkers enjoy.

The article portrays UC as a little ruthless in its strategies for dealing with cheaters: administering $750 fines, sending cheaters to counselling and dishing out 25-hour community service sentences. As someone who put in 100% effort into every essay and exam I did during my BA, those consequences are totally inadequate. Cheaters see something that they want and, rather than working for it, simply take it. Cheating therefore defies the fundamental principles of what being a NZ citizen is all about. Cheating is an offence against society itself, and the consequences need to reflect that.

If I made the rules, I’d ensure that the penalty for first-time cheating would be forfeiture of any subsequent grade higher than a C. My penalty for anyone caught cheating again would be forfeiture of the right to study at any NZ university. Ruthless? Maybe. Unfair? Nope. Cheating is theft, pure and simple and the consequences for it need to reflect that reality.

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