Update from the Sy Syms Academic Integrity Committee
The Syms Academic Integrity Committee was created in fall 2015 in order to facilitate better communication between the students and faculty of Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business. The committee was created by Dean Moses Pava and is currently led by Michael Klein and Fraidy Steinberger. The goal of the committee is to help students understand that integrity is more important than academic success, that cheating is the antithesis of what YU stands for, and for students to realize the severity of cheating, both ethically and halachically.
To start the conversation, we sent out a survey to all YU students to hear what they had to say on the matter, and received over 200 responses. The three main points we wanted to gather from the polls and comments section in the survey were how prevalent students felt cheating was in the classroom, what students considered cheating, and how they suggest we, together with the faculty, eradicate cheating in our school. This article will discuss some of the findings from this anonymous survey, and include some direct quotes on cheating and related topics.
Students generally agreed that cheating can be defined as “people obtaining information that is not theirs and presenting it as their own.” Students gave various examples of cheating including plagiarism, paying someone to write a paper, using notes or other material during a test, and having access to an old exam and using to it study. Some direct quotes included were, “tricking the test giver into thinking you know something by way of external help,” “working together on a take home midterm,” and “discussing answers with a classmate who hasn't taken an exam yet.” Interestingly, one student responded that taking ADHD medication when it’s not prescribed for you would be considered cheating as well.
However, “test banks” seemed to be more of a grey issue for students. For those who may have not heard of test banks, they are Microsoft Word documents, provided to professors, that contain thousands of possible questions that professors can use when creating tests. Although they are intended for teachers’ use only, students often have access to them. Theoretically, by preparing all of the thousands of questions in a test bank, a student can guarantee that any question that is on their test they will have seen beforehand. One answer from our survey relating to test banks said the following, “if a teacher is using test banks and old exams then it’s not cheating to prepare with the same documents. The teachers are in full right to create a test but if it’s known that every test is a replica of last year’s test, or that they use the same test banks, then there is an issue with the faculty.”
We also had survey responses discussing the similar practice of using old tests from the same course to study. One of the responses we received claimed “you should be able to study with old tests because the teacher should have made the effort to write a new test” and “I don't believe that seeing a copy of a old test in advance is cheating if you don't have it with you at the time of taking the test yourself, because then it's just like having really good notes.”
We also received a few interesting responses discussing the general practice of cheating. Some students complained that “cheating hurts the class’ curve, which is unfair to the class and that “cheating allows an unfair advantage to students and it takes away from the legitimacy of the school.” 77.7% of responders said that knowledge of their peers cheating negatively affects how they look at them.
While 91.7% of students believe cheating to be wrong only 72.4% say that if an exam is unfair then cheating is still not allowed. One student wrote, “I find that most people I know who have cheated have only done it in a class where the teacher was either expecting unreasonable things for a test, or hadn't done an adequate job teaching the material and the student was under pressure to teach it to herself.” Although 91.7% of students agree that cheating is not acceptable both ethically and Halachically, one student explains that, “The pressure to cheat on exams is very high in YU which is extremely unfortunate. It's prevalent in the student body and not fair to those of us who are trying to keep up our moral, ethical, and Halachic standards.”
Many students used the comment section of the survey to suggest ideas on how to minimize cheating throughout our student body. Their suggestions varied from implementing stricter testing rules and enacting harsher punishments, to changing the style of tests to having less take-home tests. We also had survey answers focusing more on the school’s culture, and suggesting the school can do a better job of teaching morals and reinforcing “that it's more important to get a lower grade and not cheat, than to cheat.” Additionally, students suggested ideas such as “formalizing and publicizing study groups as a setting where students can review material together.” Other students suggested that professors should “clearly define what needs to be done in order to succeed and offer “extra credit for poor grades on exams.”
There were also survey responses that suggested innovative approaches to solving this issue. One student suggested that the faculty consider alternative ways of assessing a student's comprehension of the material instead of traditional classroom testing, saying, “professors should use papers, projects, and other assignments which are equally capable of assessing how well each student has retained the information, while removing the pressure associated with the timed, in-class, eyes-on-you environment of taking a test.”
Looking a little closer at some of the data that we collected, although over 90% of students said they believe cheating to be wrong, 55.6% of students said if they were to cheat they would cheat in the moment while 9.5% said they would plan it beforehand. This poll points out how students view cheating as conditional and may opt towards cheating when they see themselves at a disadvantage if they don’t cheat.
Another issue that emerged from a number of survey responses was that some students feel that only grades and tests are valued in school as opposed to mastery of the subject, which causes them to devalue the education they are receiving. When they begin to devalue the education and classroom material, they’ll become more inclined to cheat. Additionally, students who cheat fail to understand that aside from receiving a college education, they are forming a reputation with their peers, and future colleagues. In the future, when they are applying for a job, this reputation will influence the recommendations they receive. It is harder to recommend a peer who has a history of cheating than a peer with an honest reputation and a possibly lower GPA.
A final takeaway from these surveys pertained to encouraging the school administration and professors to continue to emphasize the importance of academic integrity. Cheating is a clear violation of gneivat daat, not only by deceiving the teacher and getting a false grade, but by receiving a college degree which is not truly reflective of the education and standards the certificate represents. This, in turn, leads to a lifelong issue of gneivat daat, from getting accepted to graduate school to getting a job. With the continued efforts by the faculty and our academic integrity committee, we hope that students will come to view academic integrity as more than, in the words of one of the survey responses, “just another institutional rule.”