Wednesday, November 19, 2008

University fires teacher for publicly identifying cheaters

The Daily Texan - University fires teacher : "The six students received F’s and were reported to the school, but their grades may not stand because of Young’s blog post [in which he publicly identified them]."

Not terribly long ago, at a school where I'm no longer on the active call-out roster, I busted a student for plagiarism. Dead to rights I caught the student, as in, "I took the last sentence of your essay and Googled it as a text-string search, and the only hit I got led me to your essay, verbatim, looking me in the face." When I went to my department chair, the first thing he asked me was whether or not I could document the cheating. Inside my head, my first response was, "Gee, you think I'd waste your time if I couldn't?" The second thing he asked me was if I felt inclined to give the student another chance. Out loud, I responded, "No, the students were specifically warned in my college-approved course syllabus that cheating would automatically result in a course grade of zero, no exceptions." And then he asked me if I was willing to let the student drop the course (W). I was astounded, and grew even more so when he then told me that unless I went immediately through the registrar to fail the student, the student could (via a not-so-roundabout process) drop my class without penalty and without my approval or comment!

This is the crux: students are no longer in any way held accountable for their actions. It starts in the public schools, where it's an open secret that teachers aren't allowed to fail more than X% of their students (and they have to document that they bent over backwards to help/assist the student, notified the parents multiple times, etc.), and that if every little step to "re-teach" hasn't been taken, the failing grade can (and often will) be overridden. Knowing this, students are quite confident in doing no work and/or cheating, because the onus is not on them but on their teachers to justify the grades. "You can't fail all of us, even though no one did the work, because if you do, you will get in trouble, not us." And yes, this even goes down to something as simple as doing worksheets!

In this professor's case, the students will probably end up getting course credit because, parallel to the public teachers, the professor did not follow proper procedure. And while violating FERPA is a huge no-no and the university is justified in not rehiring that adjunct, giving the students credit for cheating sends entirely the wrong signal here. They were warned that this could happen, why are they surprised and/or angry when it does?!? But because the entire education establishment is now "learner-centered," as in, "we need the learners in the seats so that we can get money," they know that they will now be rewarded, not punished.

But it's just plagiarism. The worst that can happen is that you end up Vice President.

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