By: Freddy Schwartz | Features  | 

From the Archives: Cheating

Editor’s Note: Over three decades ago, Yeshiva University was plagued by rampant cheating and futile efforts to curb the problem. It is quite astonishing to read the following article, which was one of many articles about cheating printed in an issue of The Commentator from February 1987, and to see how little has changed. The specifics aside, this article could almost pass as a news piece today.

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Title: From the Archives (February 18, 1987; Volume 52 Issue 5) — Poll Shows Widespread Cheating: Senate Acts to Rectify Situation

Author: Freddy Schwartz

The cheating at Yeshiva College has reached such a proportion that it is now perhaps the most serious problem this institution must confront. While the majority of the student body has never cheated, the overall atmosphere is frighteningly conducive to student chicanery.

Although exact statistics are unavailable, results from the recent Commentator survey reveal a major problem. Of the 104 students who responded to the poll, 36% admitted that they have cheated at least once in college. In addition, an overwhelming 88% of students claimed to have witnessed others cheating, with more than half of the respondents reporting to have seen such a spectacle on at least four separate occasions. While less shocking, perhaps the most significant statistic to emerge from the survey was that 81% of those polled would refrain from reporting visible cheating to the instructor. Apparently, although most students do not cheat themselves, they do tolerate cheating from others.

This general atmosphere of tolerance not only fosters cheating, but also allows cheaters to boast openly and freely about their immoral conduct instead of feeling shameful and culpable. Many cheating instances become quite well-known. One example is the case of the accounting student who last year was requested to take his final exam earlier than scheduled. The teacher acquiesced on condition that the student take the test in the teacher’s office. The student complied, but when not being observed, proceeded to make several photocopies of the exam for his friends. He distributed them later on, and neither he nor his friends were ever penalized.

Another instance of group cheating occurred last semester when a makeup exam was being administered to fifteen economics students. Their instructor seated them in a room, handed out the test, said “I’ve got to teach a class now but I trust you guys not to cheat” and left the room. According to one source present, nearly every student in the room cheated. Unfortunately, there are enough anecdotes like these to fill an entire newspaper. Surely, most students who have been here for a while are aware of some fellow student who has cheated.

How is it possible that at Yeshiva, of all places, this type of intolerable conduct is so widespread? There are several answers to this question. Firstly, the proctoring at exams is virtually non-existent. It is not an uncommon sight to observe a proctor talking to his students or to his fellow proctors, or reading papers during a test. According to one professor, “there are certain faculty members who are notoriously irresponsible when proctoring.” Also, room 501 in Furst Hall is frequently overcrowded and unorganized, creating an atmosphere of chaos.

A second explanation for the cheating is that, ironically, many of the students here are graduates of yeshiva high schools which breed cheaters. Even some of the noncheaters at YU who hail from the yeshiva high school system spoke of their former violations.

A third reason for cheating at YU is that students are subject to more pressure to succeed here than almost anywhere else. Whether the origins are parental, internal or from peers, this pressure becomes inflated to the point that many students will begin to rationalize doing what they know to be wrong.

The final explanation for the cheating is that, in the words of one senior, “it’s just so freaking easy here.” The entire student body is so close-knit that students will invariably help each other out. The unique student camaraderie which is one of Yeshiva’s outstanding characteristics is unfortunately also serving to lower the ethical standards of the student body.

In response to all this, the Student Senate has placed the issue of cheating at the head of their agenda. They recently passed certain laws which they felt will render cheating more difficult. According to Daniel Feit, Chairman of the Senate, the goal is “to establish an atmosphere of decorum during examinations.” Mr. Feit feels that, to effectively combat the problem, we must not merely strengthen and enforce the rules, but also “raise the consciousness of the student body.” He hopes to include informative essays against cheating in the packets distributed at freshman orientation, as well as encourage articles in future Commentator and Hamevaser issues on the topic.

One possible solution the Senate has not considered yet is a stiffening of the punishments for proven cheaters. Dean Rosenfeld concurs but feels that the current system is just. He explained that the penalty for someone caught cheating on a final is failure on that exam, unless it is “flagrant” in which case the student automatically fails the course. The Dean defined “flagrant” as premeditated, as opposed to the spur-of-the-moment offender who is less blameworthy.

In theory, the most effective deterrence to the cheating would be unequivocal student intolerance towards cheaters. In a situation where 4/5 of the student body is prepared to “let it go,” no Senate law can be too effective.

What has created the current atmosphere where students will refuse to cheat and yet stand idly by as their classmates do? One very simple answer is that many students are afraid. In a small college such as ours there is a realistic fear that the cheater will eventually discover the identity of his accuser. Also, some people, although personally against cheating, do not necessarily want to take a stand on the issue. Just as a student who sees a sign in the school displaying what he considers to be anti-Torah slogans often lacks the necessary sense of vigilance to rip it down, very few people are inclined to actively attempt to stop the cheating in the school. Another reason for the general tolerance is that many people interpret cheating as a moral decision strictly between the cheater and God. Who am I, a student will reason, to butt into another’s personal, ethical decisions? Finally, in the close-knit environment of Yeshiva, many students are likely to feel “I don’t want to tell on him- I know him!”

What many students do not realize is that by letting cheating continue undisturbed, the noncheaters are affected in a very real way. The most obvious examples are tests which are graded on a curve - as the cheater’s grade improves, the noncheater’s grade decreases. A more serious effect could occur in the future if graduate schools find out the extent of the cheating. They may begin looking down on a Yeshiva graduate, saying “well, sure he has a 3.8 index, but he went to Yeshiva, so we don’t know how legitimate that is.” We would be wise not to reverse the excellent reputation that YU currently enjoys in the eyes of schools nationwide.

There are certain students who are quite upset over all the publicity and attention this topic is receiving. Obviously, anyone who wishes to continue cheating will now be frustrated by an overall heightened awareness of the problem. This realization is probably what prompted some people to steal the survey boxes, and others to complain bitterly to the paper’s editors to refrain from exposing the issue.

There are others who are equally saddened, but for an entirely different reason. These people are concerned over the most serious consequence of all—chillul Hashem. When word spreads that there is cheating at a religious institution such as ours, this represents a tremendous desecration of God. If for no reason other than this, something must be done.

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Photo Caption: The Commentator archives

Photo Credit: The Commentator