Consequences of snitching on cheating classmates? None of my business?
November 11, 2013 6:13 AM   Subscribe

My college classmates plan to cheat on a project everyone else worked hard on. My instinct is to look the other way.

To cheat, they have to forge signatures of supervisors in a non-profit organization. This is where I personally draw a bold line and highlight it in red. But I'm hesitant to tell the professor because I don't know if doing so will negatively affect me in a way I haven't pondered. She could become more critical of submissions, but that doesn't matter to me. She could handle the situation in a way that makes it obvious someone snitched, which is concerning, but this semester is coming to an end anyway.

On the other hand, it feels nosy. That's my biggest reason for sitting on this information for three weeks. It feels like something preschoolers do, not adults. However, the only reason I know about it is because they were openly encouraging people (myself included) to use the same methods. On the other other hand, my desire to tell the professor is hardly pure. It's a slap in the face to sacrifice weekends for two months, only to have classmates giddily announce that they're "just gonna write really sloppy signatures."

Things I know for certain:
These people didn't do the project, despite having four months to complete it. Now it's impossible.

They plan to cheat by forging illegible signatures of supervisors and lying about what they did in the required essay and paperwork. They could realize it's too risky and take the letter grade hit instead.

So... I'm looking for advice on what to do, especially if you're a teacher/instructor/professor; what's the best way to handle this (or not)? Have I overlooked something? Today is the due date, although I guess I could report it any time, if I went that way.
posted by plaintiff6r to Education (49 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Does your school have an honor code that you've agreed to? Is your intended behavior consistent with that code?
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:16 AM on November 11, 2013 [11 favorites]

There is anonymous reporting. I suspect your university also has an honor code that strongly requests/requires you report cheating. I personally think this type of behavior should in fact be reported, especially if any of the students will have careers that require ethics.
posted by Jacen at 6:17 AM on November 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


How did you find out? Just curious.

What's the downside of you telling? Their behavior in unethical. I'd be upfront with the perps, and if they follow through, tell them the consequences. They have to learn to do the work. Cheating is unfair to the rest of the class and a bad lesson for them.

You're assisting them in the ruse if you keep quiet. Hard, I know, but necessary, I believe.
posted by FauxScot at 6:18 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Snitching ? To me, you are on the wrong foot right there.
Try whistle-blowing? Or, academic honesty?

As a former teacher, and a current small business owner,
if you let this slide, I would not want you as a student or an employee.

When good people turn away, the bad ones win.
posted by Flood at 6:19 AM on November 11, 2013 [48 favorites]

I don't think there is an answer other than to follow your conscience and if you do it, do it because you care about the integrity of the system rather than the impact of cheating on your own endeavours.

You could be exposed, although I think you should be able to make it very plain to the supervisor that you expect them to handle things in a way that does not expose you.

If it were me, I'd look for someone on the teaching staff I trusted and ask their advice.

Personally, I loathe cheats. They devalue hard work and debase a system of trust. I like to think I'd report it.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:19 AM on November 11, 2013

In my industry, failure to disclose knowledge of something like this would be an ethical breach and cause for termination. My industry is trust-based, and it would also be a huge mark on my future employability.

As mentioned, your honor code should govern this. There is also most likely a University ombudsman that you can contact for advice. Check the website, though -- some ombudsmen are only available to faculty.
posted by bfranklin at 6:19 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "Tattling", "snitching", these ideas are part of an ideology according to which the institution is illegitimate and students owe loyalty only to each other, in solidarity against the illegitimate authority of the institution. If you believe the institution is legitimate, that it has a legitimate interest in policing this kind of conduct, and that punishment for this conduct would be justice, then report it.
posted by stebulus at 6:23 AM on November 11, 2013 [67 favorites]

...because I don't know if doing so will negatively affect me in a way I haven't pondered.

Maybe not the best rationale for proceeding, but you also don't know if doing so will positively affect you in ways you haven't pondered.

Personally, I don't think I could ignore this.
posted by jon1270 at 6:24 AM on November 11, 2013

Best answer: An anonymous suggestion to the professor that following up on the identities of the signatures for the project probably wouldn't be amiss.

Assuming that the instructors don't already do that, which to be honest I certainly would if I were the one giving the assignment. It's an obvious stunt to pull.
posted by winna at 6:29 AM on November 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

There's a third way in between telling the administration and keeping silent. You could approach them as a group or one person you believe has a conscience within that group and you could tell them why you think it's wrong and how the cheating hurts you and the other students who worked hard on the project. Be clear that you aren't going to accuse them publicly but that if it comes out and the administration asks you if you know anything you aren't going to lie. And then leave it at that. In some ways that may be the worst of all possible worlds, but that is what I would do I think, if they are at all friends. If they are assholes I don't care about it's a different story however.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:29 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone else. This isn't like working in a group to do what should be an individual assignment. This is flat out fraud including forgery. Depending on the people whose signature is being forged it could also proceed into impersonating or misrepresentating an important person. This is very bad juju and should be reported.
posted by koolkat at 6:29 AM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: As a professor, I would appreciate this information, but I would also have to question your motives for informing me and the veracity of your information. Calling someone out for plagiarism is SERIOUS BUSINESS and it may involve a lot of paperwork for the professor that she/he doesn't want to have to deal with. I.E. "Why did you feel the need to confirm this specific student's sources as legitimate? Did you let your students know there would be a possibility of you doing so beforehand?" If the student pushes back hard enough, it can be an administrative nightmare. You have to be able to justify everything you do that involves a student's grade and academic standing, and the testimony of other students is just not solid enough.

Most colleges have a code of conduct regarding forgery as a type of plagiarism. The professor could take your "snitching" and confirm the legitimacy of the signatures or she/he may just shrug it off for now and put a hefty disclaimer on the assignment next semester to dissuade this sort of behavior. I am not sure if that would be satisfying to you, since the cheaters would get off THIS TIME, but it may prevent cheating in the FUTURE.

I recommend reading your student handbook and/or visiting your dean of students, if your college has one. They will be able to give you advice. However, if the services at your college are anything like the ones where I work, they will probably dissuade you from snitching. They are far more interested in retention than actual academic honesty, to be sure.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:32 AM on November 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

think that a class and a campus are a community, and letting dishonest work thrive is corrosive to that community and to the idea that education is a common good, not just a way for a few people to get ahead by whatever means they see fit. As part of that community, it's in your interest to see that your classmates are working honestly so that everyone's merits can contribute to the whole.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:34 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't tell. You are motivated by anger and a sense of injustice. Welcome to life! They plan to cheat but haven't cheated yet; if after they've submitted their report the opportunity naturally arises to say what you heard (that they planned to cheat), then you can, but otherwise I wouldn't tell. Like Young Kullervo said, if you make accusations it falls on you to back that up, and if they lawyer up and fight back then it gets ugly fast. (And believe me, people in my school lawyered up when accused.)

People cheated in my university at the risk of academic expulsion. When I found out a friend was planning on cheating on a mid term, I told him in no uncertain terms never to sit next to me in a test again. My degree was too important. He knew he was cheating, and he stayed away. So all you can do is stay the f* away from these guys; your classmate friendship is now over.

tl;dr - don't snitch, and get out of the blast radius ASAP.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:44 AM on November 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ask the professor in class, before the project is handed in, if they do any follow-up with the people who signed the forms.

This would give the professor a chance to say that yeah, of course they check, which would give the forgers a chance to fail a class instead of being kicked out of school. If I were the professor and normally *didn't* check, I would probably find the question suspicious enough to do so this semester. (They probably will check yours extra-thoroughly as well, but if your work is already in order then you won't have any concerns.)

If the forgers get mad at you for asking, you can tell them that your alternative was to specifically tell the professor that they were cheating.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:47 AM on November 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: " it feels nosy. That's my biggest reason for sitting on this information for three weeks. It feels like something preschoolers do, not adults."

True adults do not cheat.

" my desire to tell the professor is hardly pure. It's a slap in the face to sacrifice weekends for two months, only to have classmates giddily announce that they're "just gonna write really sloppy signatures."

Your reasons are as pure as they can possibly be and not entirely selfish since it's not only a slap in the face to you and all the students that actually did the work, but also to anyone out there in the same grade as you. Your reasons are extremely honorable.

"She could handle the situation in a way that makes it obvious someone snitched" Yes she can. Having been in a similar position myself I would like to tell you that this is a very real concern. You should under no circumstance let an authority figure know that this information came from you. In my own case it was a team project where a particular person ruined the project for everyone else and very purposefully. The entire team suffered because of this person's actions. What's interesting is that I wasn't even a part of the team myself. I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time where I was able to witness this person due some sabatoging on the project. My conscience and my feeling bad for the people on that team led me to report the incident in person in order to save everyone on that team from a failing grade. And yes, the person was called out on it, but in a way that made EVERYONE aware that someone (me) snitched on her. And the authority figure I reported it to promised they would not do this yet they did it anyway. Yes it did save the team from a failing grade, but while they were secretly very grateful for my action- they only extended this gratitude when members of the team were alone with me in a room or something. In public they acted completely different towards me. As if they didn't want to be seen being friendly with a snitch even if this snitch was the very reason they were able to pass. For me it was also the end of the semester, so this mess didn't last very long, but it taught me a lesson for sure. Don't expect any real thanks or any real loyalty for helping others in this way. It's just as likely that they will all too readily accept the benefits of your action while hypocritically pretending not to accept the action itself. Either find a way to report this anonymously or don't report it at all.
posted by manderin at 6:50 AM on November 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

Duty, honesty and citizenship: these seem to be long gone values... If you were my student, I would appreciate getting this information. Allowing others to get good grades by cheating devalues your degree and what it represents. Please, follow the suggestions made by previous people that encouraged you to do something positive, rather than being convinced by those that tell you to ignore it.
posted by aroberge at 6:51 AM on November 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm an adjunct professor and I would never under any circumstances punish a student for "being a snitch". Even if I questioned your motives, which I wouldn't, I would not punish you; even if I did not believe you, which I might not. I'm not your friend; I'm not your peer; I'm your instructor and I have a job to do and that does not involve punishing you for being mad at other students who are cheating or policing how you interact with students you you don't like (beyond the obvious interventions for extreme, violent or disruptive behavior). I don't think student should pre-emptively warn an instructor that classmates plan to cheat, but I think students who are aware that classmates have cheated should follow the steps in their honor code for reporting unethical behavior of fellow students.

As for feeling like a preschooler for "telling": Children cheat; adults own up to their failures and try to work out ways to fix it. Your classmates are behaving like spoiled brats and are behaving irresponsibly toward themselves and disrespectfully of their instructor and classmates, as well as possibly making the persons whose signatures they are forging look bad within a professional community. Why on earth should you accept that sort of behavior from your university community?
posted by crush-onastick at 6:55 AM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Young Kullervo, that's very insightful.

Everyone: I'm super sorry for using the word "snitch." I tried to think of a better word before posting. I'm rather fond of my classmates despite their flaws, so it genuinely feels wrong to even consider "upholding academic honesty" (thanks Flood), leading me to use a word with negative connotations.

Someone asked how I know this is true. They told me and others directly during lab.

I see some errors in my prioritizing. I'm focusing on my feelings and whether or not they're petty, whereas everyone else is focusing on the honor code.
posted by plaintiff6r at 6:55 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Since you're getting to it beforehand and they still could do the right thing, I'd take a kind of softened approach, probably. "Hey, professor, I have overheard some talk about the possibility of forging signatures to get out of actually doing the supervised portion of this project. It might be that nothing's going to come of it, but I didn't really know what to do about this and I felt it was best to leave it up to you how to handle it." And then let the professor figure it out. This is the sort of thing where they *should* be verifying all signatures, anyway. If they get away with it after that, it's totally off your conscience. If they don't, it will be because there was a process put in place to handle such things, not because you called attention specifically to those people.
posted by Sequence at 6:56 AM on November 11, 2013 [32 favorites]

I love Sequence's answer. I had something similar happen to me in a work situation. I went to my manager and said, "I was approached to do this unethical thing by a vendor. I said no. I'm not naive enough to believe that I'm the only one approached. I recommend that all sales involving this vendor be audited."

I didn't let him know about the actual people who told me about the deal and the kick-backs they were getting. I just told him to do his job and to audit the damn sales.

They got away with it for a long time. Then one day security came to ME and said, "You know about this, we want you to tell us who, what, where, when and how." I simply said, "I was approached, I said no, and I have no idea who, what, where, when or how from that point. I did tell my manager and suggested an audit. I don't know where it went form there." Then they stopped with the intimidation tactics and they rolled their eyes and said, "Yeah, that one thing, that's the one the sales people miss."

I will say that it turns out our center manager was deeply involved in this unethical stuff and my willingness to speak up ultimately resulted in her being dismissed. (She was horrible, justice was served.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:06 AM on November 11, 2013 [10 favorites]

As a professor, I would not question your motives for reporting (not snitching!) this egregious dishonesty. This goes far beyond someone failing to cite a proper source in a paper. This violates the basic trust of the project and the course. As your teacher, i would be sure to shield your privacy as far as I could, and I know at least where I teach, my colleagues would as well. Of course, it could become impossible to do so when this matter goes up the administration and the students are penalized with a failing grade or even expelled.
One reason I think it's important for them to be held accountable: these students are going to learn that they can cheat big time and get away with it. Lovely to think about them later thinking they can get away with fudging data or statistics in the corporate worlds.
Maybe if you are worried about repercussions, it would be better to send the teacher a note telling them to look into it and explaining that you need to remain anonymous but are concerned.
posted by third rail at 7:07 AM on November 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

Cheating like this is not a victimless crime. Who's the victim? YOU. You are taking a class and doing the assigned work so that, in the end, you will be given a piece of paper that is taken as proof that you are proficient in certain ways, having done all that work. When cheating occurs, it weakens the extent to which that piece of paper can in fact be taken as proof of proficiency. It makes YOUR hard work less valuable. It makes you get less value out of your education. So, keep that in mind: you informing the professor definitely wouldn't be some petty, pointless act. Instead, it would be the appropriate step to ensure the value of your hard work and diploma.

So, keep that in mind. The honor code may require you to inform your professor, but rational self interest also points to telling her. It's the right thing to do, for multiple reasons.
posted by meese at 7:07 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sequence's answer is very good. If you're still on the fence, I would suggest writing an anonymous note with a throwaway email address.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:08 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

most schools have an office of academic integrity, and they should have an anonymous reporting process for cheating. See if you can find them, or ask your adviser where to find them, and report it that way so you don't have to get any more involved than you have to.
posted by Think_Long at 7:09 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would defer to my honor code, but my sense is that in the absence of a clear path described in the honor code, I would not say anything. I think it depends on your reason for taking the class. If you took the class to learn the material, full stop, then no need to say anything. If you took the class to learn and to get a good grade and if getting a good grade is relative to other's work, then say something.

(I think the professor should just require, below the signature, a printed name and phone number. The professor would never even have to call, the requirement alone will prevent a lot of forging.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:15 AM on November 11, 2013

Best answer: Also, while in a perfect world the professor would be able to verify all outside signatures on a student project, this is not how academia works. Although I'm not a science or business professor and am speaking from the liberal arts perspective, I still think it would be unlikely that your professor would be able to look into all the outside institutions the students have worked with to check up on them, any more than they would be able to look up every citation in every student's paper to make sure it's really accurate. Even academic editors of peer reviewed journals pretty much depend on trusting the basic integrity of the author. So yes, it's off your shoulders if you anonymously warn the professor with a heads up, but you can't assume the professor already has the resources in place to do an entire fact-checking, phone-call or email based inventory of every project. That is why the honor code matters.
posted by third rail at 7:17 AM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

any more than they would be able to look up every citation in every student's paper to make sure it's really accurate.

I do check every citation my students use. Now, that is a big part of the course, and I generally have a 25-student class, so, while it's a lot of work, it's doable, but, if you aren't going to check, why make the assignment at all? Have them make up a project where they don't need signatures. It's not really fair to the students to not fully grade their assignments because it would be too much work. A different assessment would be a better choice.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:56 AM on November 11, 2013

You could approach them as a group or one person you believe has a conscience within that group and you could tell them why you think it's wrong and how the cheating hurts you and the other students who worked hard on the project. Be clear that you aren't going to accuse them publicly but that if it comes out and the administration asks you if you know anything you aren't going to lie.

I'm sort of with Potomac Avenue here.

No one likes a snitch. The difference between a snitch and a whistleblower is that a snitch has the chance to do something before the fact. A whistleblower doesn't.

You are aware of this IN ADVANCE. You have the chance to so something about IN ADVANCE.

You should tell your colleagues that what they intend to do is wrong, you won't stand for it, and if they do it, you're gonna dime them out. Simple and plain. You have to give them a chance. Being silent NOW when you are aware of this and then diming them out later strikes me not honorable in any way shape or form. Doing that is like setting them up and that makes YOU a snitch.

Sorry. Nothing about your situation is easy, but being "honorable" means you gotta be honorable all the way around.
posted by three blind mice at 7:59 AM on November 11, 2013

I'd be inclined not to talk, partly because I'm a coward, partly because it's the more difficult choice and will ultimately cause me more hassle.

But my justification for not talking is legitimate, I think. At some point in life, the quality of your education is *your* responsibility alone. There will always be people in life who get ahead without earning it, either by cheating, by birth, by who they know or what they're willing to do. There will be plenty of times where your outrage and your attempts to level the playing field aren't worth it and are counterproductive. I think it is a completely defensible choice to say "I did the work, I got the educational value, and my classmates did not and it's not my job to grade their work." Yeah, cheaters compare falsely well to honest students on paper. Yeah, they might get into a slightly better grad school. But habitual cheaters always fuck up at some point and have to suffer the consequences of being an undependable student/coworker/friend/spouse. Good hardworking students are very rarely left out in the cold with a failing grade or no post graduation options.

That having been said, I do think the ethical thing to do in this situation is to let someone know. A forged signature is a pretty obvious breach of integrity and if I were a 20 year old college student with bad judgement, it would be better for me to cut that kind of behavior as soon as possible.
posted by Random Person at 8:12 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Waaait. Wait. They're going to FORGE SIGNATURES as part of their deception?!

Whoa. That's . . . that seems worse than cheating or "just" plagiarizing. I don't know your prof, maybe they're not going to properly protect you, so an anonymous tip might be the way to go, but yeah, report that. I would NEVER ding a student for letting me know that I might end up being unwittingly complicit in fraud at that level. In addition, as a teacher, I have a responsibility to all of the students to be as fair as possible, and these people are messing with my attempts to do my job. The context seems important here - this isn't just a multiple choice quiz, but a major project, supposedly done over months, apparently involving outside sources.

So they might get expelled? Well, they deserve it. Sorry, real life might not be "fair", but that doesn't mean it should be free of consequences for deliberate malice. If someone in a company was caught doing this, they'd get fired.
posted by synapse at 8:13 AM on November 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm a former college professor that has worked in both four year and two year settings. I would really appreciate you telling me this. Yes, a report of this sort is annoying and laborious for the faculty involved but I did it every time it was the right thing to do.

You can alert the teacher anonymously, just create a fake email address and email the professor something like this:


I'm a student in one of our courses with a significant project due this week. Several of my classmates are planning to dishonestly claim they did volunteer work [I'm assuming this is volunteer work] that they did not do and forge documentation to prove it.

I feel uncomfortable saying this in front of the group but feel even more uncomfortable allowing such dishonesty to go unreported.

A Student

Drop a paper copy in his/her faculty mail box to make sure your email doesn't get spam filtered.
posted by arnicae at 8:16 AM on November 11, 2013 [14 favorites]

plaintiff6r: Today is the due date

Sequence's otherwise fine idea won't work, as the cheaters do not have a chance to do the right thing. I guess they could decide to not turn in the project, if turning it in and being discovered could result in greater consequences than just a bad grade, but that seems unlikely, knowing what we know about their ethics.

arnicae's anonymous email is perfect. If I otherwise cared about the cheaters, I would probably BCC them on the email, to at least give them the chance to come clean and not turn in a fraudulent project.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:21 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Genjiandproust, I admire your dedication, but at the research university where I work, "grading fully" absolutely does not entail tracking down and checking every outside source used by students, which would be in the thousands each semester. It would be considered an unwise use of my own time as a researcher and teacher, in fact. YMMV.
posted by third rail at 8:22 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Rock Steady, that is what I meant, that at this point they may or may not turn in the project with forged signatures; they wouldn't be the first people in the world just to not turn something in. But what I meant was, this is entirely in their court and there's really no way for the poster to know what they're going to do. They already had the chance to do the right thing re: actually completing the project, but that's their own faults, you know? Or, who knows, maybe one of the people who was playing along did actually do the project properly and just didn't want to say anything, to save face. Or whatever. It's just a matter of not assuming that you know for a fact that false signatures were submitted if you don't know for a fact that false signatures were submitted.

I don't know how reasonable it always is to verify all kinds of things about projects, but if you have a project that involves outside volunteering that you've gone to the effort to require supervisors to sign off on it, that's a lot bigger thing than just checking the individual citations on a paper, of which there are presumably going to be many on each paper. I've had classes that included assignments like this, and I know that at least in that case they were checked. If you're going to ask a third party to take an active role in your student's education, it seems like it behooves you to stay involved with that process. This is less like checking citations than like checking in on the progress of a student teacher or something. A citation error is a minor thing; a person turning out to not have done the project at all is pretty huge.
posted by Sequence at 8:40 AM on November 11, 2013

Response by poster: >Doing that is like setting them up and that makes YOU a snitch.

three blind mice, you make a lot of assumptions. We didn't have time to thoroughly discuss their plans (because they did it in lab), but everything I told them was against cheating. I offered to train them. I volunteered to do the hard work, so they could do the fun parts. I feel like offering to spend additional weekends on a project I already finished is going above and beyond. I think you would have an excellent point if I told them it was a brilliant idea. But I expressed concern about their choice and offered an alternative, and had they taken me up on it, they would be done by now and guaranteed a decent grade.

And synapse, yes, they planned to use the real names and contact information of nonprofit supervisors or managers. In addition to the signatures verifying their work, they have to forge a handwritten survey about their performance on the job. The more I think about this, the more uneasy I feel about remaining silent. I'm going to let the professor know anonymously.

Sequence, I don't know how the verification process works. I hope they have someone dedicated to going over all the paperwork and making phone calls, in which case, my concern is fortunately moot. There's an incredible number of students participating, which is partially why my classmates believe they can get away with this. Thinking about all those phone calls gives me a headache.

Thank you, everyone. I'm hitting the sack at 12PM because I stayed up needlessly fretting over this.
posted by plaintiff6r at 8:54 AM on November 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Another professor here. Please alert your prof, however you choose to do it. Your prof almost certainly does not want to let this stuff fly under the radar, and will appreciate help in that goal ( even if they do suspect your motives; but if you have nothing to worry about, then don't worry) - we can't be all-knowing ourselves. I'd also think the forgees would appreciate their signatures not being abused and faked. You're doing the right thing, and you'll feel good about having fine the right thing later.
posted by Dashy at 9:18 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

plaintiff6r: "I see some errors in my prioritizing. I'm focusing on my feelings and whether or not they're petty, whereas everyone else is focusing on the honor code."

Well yes, of course you do, this is totally natural and you should't beat yourself up needlessly over having feelings. It's valid for you to think about the feelings you're having about a specific situation in which you're personally involved. We're looking at it from the outside, which makes it very easy for us to focus objectively on the honor code.
posted by desuetude at 9:30 AM on November 11, 2013

Is it possible that this was just an outlandish brainstorm? If someone really were going to do this, wouldn't they keep it on the down low? If you're sure this is for real, I think you should say something, but it seems quite strange that someone would brag openly about doing something that could result in serious consequences. Maybe there was never an intention to follow through.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:58 AM on November 11, 2013

As a professor, I would like to know. An anonymous note would be fine. If I received such a note, I would ask the supposed signatories to confirm that they signed the paperwork. (If this is in fact a course for premeds, I'd probably be doing some kind of confirmation anyway, with or without a tipoff because: premeds).

If the signatures were faked, I'd have the testimony of the supposed signatories, and wouldn't need to even reveal the existence of the tipper at any point in the disciplinary process—and, oh yes, there would be a disciplinary process. These students, aside from not engaging honestly with the educational process, are dealing in poor faith with members of the community, and thereby trifling with the reputation of their school.
posted by BrashTech at 10:43 AM on November 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Anonymous note. Maybe the prof can't check everybody's signatures, but they sure can spot-check the papers without signaling that they were tipped off.
posted by Andrew Galarneau at 10:50 AM on November 11, 2013

As a former lecturer, I would definitely want to know about this. And, as someone who occasionally supervises students on volunteer work experience, I would be extremely ticked off if I found out that someone was forging my signature on reports and claiming credit, and my endorsement, for work they didn't do. That kind of thing undermines not only the integrity of your course and your own grade, it hurts the school's relationship with cooperating organizations It could even damage the reputation of the partners if others think they are giving students credit for experience that they didn't actually get, and won't be able to demonstrate if pressed in the real world.

I would go the anonymous e-mail route, but be sure to send it to a few people (e.g. the course instructor, their department head, and whatever office is responsible for academic dishonesty issues), just in case your instructor is inclined to sweep it all under the rug.
posted by rpfields at 10:52 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would not think less of you if you called this to my attention -- far from it. Yes, academic dishonesty is a pain in the ass to deal with, but any professor with half an ounce of integrity deals with it when it comes up, because it's the right thing to do.
posted by ravioli at 11:10 AM on November 11, 2013

You definitely have to tell the professor some way. Academic dishonesty leads to real dishonesty. Do you think $[Politician] would have plagiarized their political writings if they hadn't been able to get away with it in school?

But you also should make sure you can give it up if they don't get caught. This kind of cheating would tend to turn me into some kind of manic crusader who wouldn't be able to let it go until the perpetrators faced sanctions. But, having been involved in these kinds of situations before, I can say that you might not be privy to the sanctions. It might not become common knowledge. So be careful of that.
posted by gjc at 11:12 AM on November 11, 2013

I am a professor and I would want to know about this, especially given the most recent post; forging signatures of actual particular people is a really big deal (not that cheating in general isn't). I would not release your identity, especially since if this turned out to happen, there will be direct evidence rather than just 2nd hand testimony.

I'm rather fond of my classmates despite their flaws, so it genuinely feels wrong to even consider "upholding academic honesty" (thanks Flood), leading me to use a word with negative connotations. ... I'm focusing on my feelings and whether or not they're petty

Something to think about is that, from the point of view of pedagogy, i.e. actually trying to teach students, peer pressuring classmates to cheat is really, really poisonous behavior. It is unfortunately successful sometimes, even on a large scale, and can have very negative consequences for those who might have otherwise chosen differently without the social context. In this case, given the most recent clarification clarification, what is happening is or may verge on something non-legal depending on jurisdiction, and also is terrible for the relationship of the university and the community if it is known to be happening (devaluing the brand that is a component of your education). I think it is actually very reasonable to be upset that someone who you otherwise like was trying to convince you to do this, and not at all odd to be conflicted and focusing on your feelings. The fact is, the social dynamics surrounding this kind of situation are very, very powerful.

Is it possible that this was just an outlandish brainstorm? If someone really were going to do this, wouldn't they keep it on the down low?

An unfortunate thing that I've known of happening is that sometimes cheaters feel (not entirely incorrectly) that if more people are doing it, it will be harder for anyone to be punished. But I think this point is a good reason for the report to be somewhat hedged as well as not identify particular students.
posted by advil at 11:31 AM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm not a professor and don't know how universities work, but as a training instructor and manager of people, the forgery aspect turns this from a routine cheating episode to a YIKES! As in, immediately end the interview and call my company's HR office and Office of Counsel. Public Affairs might want to be involved, because of the community relations aspect. The actual police might end up getting called. This is not using unauthorized study material or looking at another student's answers on an exam. Forgery is a crime, and I am not competent to question someone about a crime they may or may not have committed.

If they are friends of yours, I don't know if that makes you more likely or less likely to report.
posted by ctmf at 11:55 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Professor here. You absolutely need to tell. Your resentment at someone else getting credit for not doing an assignment that you worked hard on is not petty jealousy. Rather it is your intuitive understanding that cheaters water down the real value of the degree. Reporting cheaters is both the right think to do and is in your economic self interest.

I am a pretty easy-going professor, but if this came to my attention I would investigate and then go ballistic. I would call the listed supervisors and confirm that my students had not worked with them. Then, I would call the students one by one into my office. Tell me about your work with this institution? And the supervisor--what was she like? Really, let's give her a call right now so we can both thank her in person....

When it was over, I would be on the phone with the Dean of Students to see what we could do about getting the students expelled.
posted by LarryC at 3:07 PM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Genjiandproust, I admire your dedication, but at the research university where I work, "grading fully" absolutely does not entail tracking down and checking every outside source used by students, which would be in the thousands each semester.

I feel your pain, but not checking leads directly to the culture of academic dishonesty that spurred this question. Without a credible danger of discovery and significant penalties, some students will chose to cheat, and that fosters a poisonous environment. So I'd argue you can't afford to not check. For the sake of the students.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:53 PM on November 11, 2013

Ya know, I'd report them just for the cheating, but that's because I'm a very rules-oriented person; to me, being part of a civilization or culture or whatever you want to call it means you follow the agreed-upon group rules.

But this case is WORSE than merely breaking the group's rules: this is dragging innocent people (the non-profit supervisors whose signatures are to be forged) into the cheating, and quite possibly adversely affecting their reputations..... it's one thing for you yourself to lie and cheat, but just as with committing a crime, you don't get implicate other people who had no knowledge of your actions. And it's even going to risk a hit to the reputations of the non-profits themselves, for apparently passing these cheats as having qualified at their tasks.

Absolutely, you should report them.
posted by easily confused at 6:03 PM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

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