Private Universities and Academic Honesty

by Stephie Saracco, '15

Several years ago two brothers were taking a Core class at the same time. The older student, a senior, pressured his younger brother into letting him copy a relatively minor assignment. After the Core team leaders caught him and gave him an F for plagiarism, the older brother was forced to return to Whitworth the following fall in order to retake the last class he needed to graduate. And the irony? If the student had simply skipped the assignment, he would still easily have passed the course.

Through missing graduation, having to pay for extra  tuition for just one class, and delaying his entry into the job market for another semester, the older brother's experience is an example of how it can literally cost more than it's worth to cheat.

Yes, we know that cheating happens at Whitworth. Yet small private Christian colleges pride themselves on how their students behave inside and outside the classroom. Whitworth University strives to be a community characterized by grace and truth. So does this mean that students at Whitworth are less likely to cheat?

Not necessarily. On the one hand, looking back at several "Whitworthian" articles, students take pride in academic honesty – while acknowledging that cheating occurs. One opinion piece in 1974 says so. "Be a rebel against cheating and hypocrisy. It's always easy to go along with the crowd, but if you want to be a real radical, try rebelling against immorality." The same idea is in another article in 1989 when the associate dean at the time said, "I think at Whitworth that we take values seriously. Values are something that need to be consistent in the different arenas of your life."

Pete Hagstrom, '77, would agree with the emphasis on values while he attended Whitworth. Hagstrom majored in business management and now works as a director of distribution at
B. Braun Medical in Spokane. This is a global pharmaceutical manufacturer, for which Hagstrom distributes medications to pharmacies. He says that when he attended Whitworth, cheating was not an issue. He says he never cheated in school and that even if the opportunity presented itself, it wasn't easy or necessary. Although he graduated more than 35 years ago, his answer appears to be almost identical to the students attending today.

Many of the students at Whitworth still don't feel the need to cheat even if they could.  Like Hagstrom, Michaila Grant, a junior majoring in sociology, says she hasn't cheated either. She also said, "Most of the classes I've been in don't lend themselves to cheating. You can't cheat with essay questions."

Anya Boehning, a junior psychology major, said something similar. "I don't have classes where I need to remember a lot of equations." Instead, her classes rely more on analysis, which is much more difficult to fake. Unlike the multiple-choice questions on a Scantron, many classes at Whitworth require application with in-depth analysis and detail.

Yet Whitworth is by no means perfect. Although some students find cheating difficult or unnecessary, there are still some classes where students say that it is almost easy. One nursing student says that some of her professors never change any of their tests or homework. Her friends that took the class before would give her their old answer sheets and she would use those to study. She concluded, however, that it "won't help you in the long run. Cheating is never good." That's what professors and schools hope to hear. However, many teachers still report having to deal with cheating more than anticipated.

Kamesh Sankaran, a Whitworth physics professor, says that he has seen an increase with cheating in the physics department over the years due to the easy availability of solution manuals to textbooks online. In order to discourage this cheating, Sankaran and his colleagues address this problem in several ways. Online homework submissions such as Safe Assign, check for plagiarism. Another example is in Core 350 where the teachers use a tactic that tests the honesty of each of the students. At the end of each group assignment, the students are required to sign their names after the following statement, "We affirm that this is the exclusive work of the above named students created without using other sources (including other students) except as cited." Students might find cheating harmless, but this mandatory signature would also mean that the student was lying. According to the Academic Honors Council, studies show that these two offenses coupled together will encourage students to be truthful.

Even though there is dishonesty in the classroom, Sankaran says that it is relatively limited. In classes like Core, he says that only 1 to 2 percent of papers are flagged for academic honesty concerns each semester. Sankaran attributes this to the internal values that are emphasized on Whitworth's campus. He says, "As a campus culture, we need greater clarity on the purpose of education, especially Christian liberal arts education. Academic dishonesty is ultimately a matter of integrity, and there's a need for recognition of what this does to the person who is cheating." This integrity is what all professors strive for on Whitworth's campus.

Whitworth relies on several approaches to help reduce cheating. There are methods such as Safe Assign and signing statements that influence students to be honest. But, more important, this small school accentuates principles that can be reflected in the way that students conduct themselves inside and outside of the classroom. Cheating has always been present in the scholastic environment, and always will be – even at Whitworth. But students and faculty alike agree that a "carrot and stick" approach – an appeal to student integrity, coupled with punishment for unacceptable conduct – will keep most Whitworth students continuing to "rebel against immorality."