Contract Cheating?

I’m kicking off my new semester teaching communication ethics with a discussion about an ethical challenge students are familiar with:  Cheating.

A testing center at Penn State uses high-tech surveillance to watch for student cheating.  (Photo:  Jim Lo Scalzo for USN&WR)

When I first taught this class many years ago, I featured a Blog about the University of Central Florida (UCF) cheating scandal, whereby a professor accused students of cheating on the midterm exam.  Since that time, UCF and many other institutions have gone high tech to fight cheating, and the use of online plagiarism detection services (such as Turnitin.com) have become commonplace. 

A not-so-new cheating buzzword caught my attention this year:  “contract cheating.”  I have long been aware of professional services that provide written work for a fee, but I was not aware how much attention this topic has garnered or how much the practice has grown among college students

I agree the companies that provide this service have become more conspicuous, and students may have become more jaded to the seriousness of this offence.  In an NPR news story about students cheating their way through college, I was struck by one student who didn’t consider it “cheating” if she paid someone to write “original” work.

“They don’t plagiarize,” she said, “…they write everything on their own.”

As much as professors would like to think this topic is black-and-white, it is not.  There are many different positions you could take.  Some cast blame on educators and even our parents.  There also are many ethical approaches you could take to explore the reasoning that leads to cheating, including utilitarianism, virtue ethics, even social contract theory and many more. 

The International Center for Academic Integrity sponsors an International Day of Action against contract cheating (coming October 16).

I look forward to engaging this year’s class on the topic and to hearing your views and perspectives.

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