Students say they are getting ‘screwed over’ for sticking to the rules. Professors say students are acting like ‘tyrants.’ Then came ChatGPT . . .
Ivy League grad and former professor here.
At this point, all the problems in Higher Ed-- from rampant cheating and the devaluing of education to the plethora of DEI administrators looking for problems-- have made me seriously consider whether I want my grandchildren to attend college. I hate writing that, but I'd rather they learned an honest trade and worked with their hands than become cheaters and liars.
I'm an academic in the UK and we're experiencing similar challenges here. Aside from unfair practice, attendance is another big problem. Across the sector, colleagues report very low levels of attendance, reflecting the recording of lectures and habits formed during the pandemic. Certain administrators don't see this as a problem, but in my opinion, it diminishes the quality of interactions/debates in classrooms and undermines the traditional function of universities.
Increasingly, students are perceiving themselves as consumers. Perhaps we can't blame them - for years, universities have charged exorbitant fees - but this has changed the nature of the traditional university experience. Instead of being places where students come to enrich themselves intellectually, universities are becoming transactional sites. This development is profoundly depressing.
In my late 'forties, bored with sitting in a dark room, looking at black-and-white pictures, and talking to myself, I closed my radiology practice for a while and spent several years at a local university studying undergraduate electrical engineering.
It had always been my first love, and was probably the best time of my life, not least of which were the lasting friendships I made there with men twenty years or more my junior.
One in particular, Chris, became my study partner. The product of a fine hardworking West Virginia family, he struggled with calculus, despite having had near-perfect math scores in a local high school - which, of course, was the problem.
During our DiffEq (differential equations) final exam, the professor left the room, and to my disappointment, Chris and another friend began collaborating and passing answers back and forth using the infrared functions on their calculators. Nobody said much, but after the examination, Talia - a ball-o-fire Russian girl, took the both of them to task - as we say, "ripped them a new a-hole."
Chris and I went to the local Chinese restaurant for lunch, and he began to criticise the woman for giving him and his buddy a hard time. I said nothing. "You're not sayng anything, Jim, and that bothers me."
I hadn't realized, but during the years we studied together, Chris had developed a respect for his older partner, and I saw this as a real teachable moment. "Chris, in the big scheme of things, this doesn't mean a damn thing. But you are going to be a professional engineer, and from time to time you will come under tremendous pressure to sign off on things that are not right, so that contractors can cut corners. The penalty for THAT is real and severe, and I don't mean legal. I mean people may die. Doctors only kill people one at a time; when engineers kill them, they kill them by the dozens. Now is the time to get your head right - when it DOESN'T matter."
"God. I never thought of that."
That was twenty years ago. I hear from Chris at least twice a year. He's married, with two beautiful daughters, and is a successful professional engineer. I hope I helped him a little.
Cheat all you want. Education is a process, not an event. It's about learning how much you are capable of.
Someday there will be something you want very badly - you'll be up against someone who did the work, learned the skills - and they will run over you.
What? You mean you can’t push moral ambiguity, treat young adults as if they are infants, and still expect everyone to work hard and do the right thing? That’s a real shocker right there.
“I didn’t get into academia to be a cop,” says one professor. Yeah, that would involve having expectations. Welcome to the real world. You reap what you sow, and I’ve yet to meet a baby that could change their own diaper.
Ultimately, competence wins. The problem for the folks who use shortcuts is, they know they used them. Sooner or later (admittedly sometime much later) when called upon to deliver in real time, with no opportunity to use a crutch, those people falter. God help the patient whose doctor cheated his or her way through medical school.
Here in upside-down world, at what point do employers start ignoring the college students attended and what their GPAs were?
Could we get to a point where a high GPA is a sign of sociopathic, entitled behavior and companies actually prefer to hire the student with the 2.5 GPA as opposed to the 4.0? At least you know (probably) that the 2.5 GPA student earned their B-/C+
Lazy professors lead to lazy students. The solution -- Blue Books. "Come to class. No tech in the room. Open your Blue Books, please. You will find the test on your desk. It is a new test just for this class. There are five different tests randomly distributed among you. Please show your work. Please begin. You have 90 minutes." Yes, the grading will take longer. Yes, the professor may have less time to do research. However, the core responsibility of the university ... to teach and send responsible young adults into the world ... will more likely be fulfilled.
Cheating may have less to do with the inherent "morality" of students than with the incentives to which they are subject.
Instructors have some control over the incentives within their courses, including the design of assignments and exams. A recent column on Inside Higher Ed (an online academic news site) opined that, if we teach students to write like robots, they can have a robot do their writing. The careful design of more meaningful projects and products can address that aspect of the problem, but that will take real, sustained effort on the part of instructors, even assuming they have the standing, the latitude, and the incentives to make the effort.
Instructors can also rethink how the overall grading schemes in their classes shape incentives. In his work on moral development, Piaget observed that when students are put in competition with each other for scarce approval or success, they will almost inevitably cheat: either they cheat on their own to get one over on their peers, or they collude in cheating to get one over on their teacher. On those grounds, I have concluded that grading on a curve is quite simply pedagogical malpractice.
There are things beyond instructors' control that shape the incentives, especially the nearly universal obsession with the GPA, which is an increasingly meaningless external indicator of alleged merit. The obsession sets in early, fostered by parents, college admissions processes, financial aid, and peer pressure, then is made much worse by some large employers who will screen applicants first by GPA, only allowing those over a certain threshold even to complete an application.
In my experience, the enforced GPA obsession makes students timid: any slight misstep - a late assignment, a mediocre exam score - feels to them like a career-ending calamity. They are so afraid of failure they have become unable to learn, unwilling to take risks, and much more inclined to find shortcuts around systems that seem to treat them with such contempt.
(For context: I'm an associate professor at a large public university.)
This article made me think of the moral corruption of widespread and frequent cheating. What does it do to the moral compass of a brain not yet fully formed? Will this generation go on breaking rules and laws when they are adults? The SEC and the Justice Department may get very busy.
More rules never works. What we need is for the Ivy's and others to highly incentivize a "Year of Service" similar to Israel. We don't need everyone in the Military, but we do need a re-alignment of values. In hindsight, I wish I had done Jesuit Volunteer Corps back in the day at Boston College.
We have some great interns from Pace University (NY) that come to visit us at our not-for-profit, and they ALWAYS respond when they have real work to do. They want to take care of our Special Needs Hikers on our Friday hikes, and on the ground training works!
It seems that there is a very easy solution to all of this - go back to hand written tests and assignments? Tests are written in halls with invigilators roaming between desks.
It feels a lot like the old anecdote about NASA spending thousands of dollars to get a pen to work in space, while the Russians just took a pencil? The solution doesn't have to be complicated to solve the problem.
I have taught both high school and college, and this has been the story in education for about 20 years now. We have academic environments nobody wants to be in, serviced by teachers that no longer want to be there, students who don’t really want to learn and material that interests no one.
It would be worth our while to approach education in the 21st-century from first principles; WHY are we teaching people? If we clarified the target and freed up teachers and students to find their best way on their own to set a target I think we would get much better results.
Oh for the days when English students thought they could cheat just by watching the movie version of a book. I remember one kid handing in an essay about Heart of Darkness that discussed the colonial exploitation of Viet Nam.
Come on, folks. Quelle surprise. Rampant fraud and cheating???
We ceded control of academia to liberals years ago. There is simply no argument that our universities are almost entirely ridldled with professors and administrators who are left leaning Democrats One study showed Democrat to :Republican ratios among fifty-one of the top sixty-six U.S. News-ranked colleges average 10.4: to 1., Excluding Annapolis and West Point raises the ratio to 12.7 to 1. This compares with a national D:R ratio of 1.6:1 for people who have some graduate school experience. https://www.nas.org/academicquestions/31/2/homogenous_the_political_affiliations_of_elite_liberal_arts_college_faculty. Although the numbers are better in certain hard fact STEM departments, the more leftist departments such as sociology et al have zero Republican representatives.
The proof is in the pudding: When you give control of any institution to leftist Democrats it inevitably turns to merde.
So why do we put our nation in their hands?
All of the conversation here that's not focused solely on the responsibility falling on bad parents is just blah, blah, yada, yada. The fact is, it is our job as parents to raise children with a strong moral compass that can step over all of this hogwash and do what is right, every time, in every situation, period. If you are accepting less from yourself as a parent, then you maybe should have decided against procreating. Until the majority of parents stop trying to be best friends with their kids and suck up the emotional turmoil that comes from sometimes making their children unhappy with them, it's not going to get better. Until the phrase, "I don't care what your friends parents are doing" comes back in to vogue, it's not going to get better.
I remember my dad telling me in no uncertain terms, "My job is not to make you like me, my job is to prepare you to be a productive citizen and a good person, if that pisses you off, so be it. You can get glad in the same panties you got mad in." . And all of the times that I cursed him under my breath amounted to nothing when it finally clicked. I had enlisted in the Marine Corps after I lost a full scholarship to a major school because I wanted to party more than study. Being away from home without the constant reinforcement showed that I didn't have the self discipline that I needed to do what was best for me. I was so afraid to go home and tell my dad what happened that I enlisted as a way to sort of soften the blow when I did tell him. It saved me, but it also completely changed the direction of my life. When I realized how much more capable and prepared I was than the other recruits, it started to become clear. I used to tell them, "If you think this is hard, we're gonna go to my house when we get out of here and my dad will show you what hard is" . I realized that all of the demands that he had put on me growing up had prepared me for what was to come in life. On graduation day, when we were finally released, I made a beeline across that parade deck to shake that mans hand and tell him I understood. After leaving the Marine Corps, I returned to the same school and finished what I had so poorly started. I owe all of the success that I have had in life to my dad's refusal to back down and let me be less than I could be.