Enforcing academic integrity from the ground up

A number of news outlets have reported recent survey results from the Center for Academic Integrity (CAI) indicating that MBA candidates cheat more than graduate students in other fields. But don’t let this red flag distract you from the bigger picture.

In 1997, the same researchers showed 84 percent of undergraduate business students said they had cheated at least once, as compared to 72 percent of engineering students and 66 percent of all students. It’s easy to see those statistics and berate business students and business programs for the frequency of ethical violations. But if 66 percent of all students are cheating, the problem is not confined to students of any one major — it’s system-wide.

This is not to say that we at Carnegie Mellon have a crisis on our hands. Over the last 10 years, the number of people suspended by the Academic Review Board in any given year has been in the single digits. The number expelled is even smaller. Of course, this does not include instances when professors deal with students directly or when students don’t get caught.

Carnegie Mellon is a rigorous and very competitive environment, and students are sure to find themselves in situations in which cheating is the easiest option. The university takes a hands-off approach when it comes to proactively addressing the issue of academic integrity, leaving it up to individual professors. How can our community effect a cultural shift, and inspire students to take the more difficult path?

Make no mistake — it is students who have the most to lose from the erosion of academic integrity in our community.

When cheating is tolerated, honest students’ grades suffer relative to the average. When the grading is on a curve, as it often is in college, cheating literally means stealing points from an honest student’s grade and tacking them on to that of a dishonest student.

More importantly, academic dishonesty erodes the value of our most significant — not to mention expensive — investment: our degree. The reputation of a university is the reputation of its students. When we write Carnegie Mellon on our résumé, others judge us based on what they know about the university.

While enforcing academic integrity is often thought of as a job for administrators, students who are confident and unwavering in their honesty have the greatest reason and power to elevate the standard at Carnegie Mellon.

We have a document entitled the Carnegie Mellon Code, which we have reproduced in its entirety on this page. The code clearly lays out the expectation that all students at Carnegie Mellon “meet the highest standards of personal, ethical and moral conduct possible.” Written early in the University’s history, in the crisp, unequivocal language of its day, the Carnegie Mellon Code has flown under the radar for years, when it could have been put to better use.

Few students know the Carnegie Mellon Code by name or content, despite the fact that it is printed on the inside front cover of The Word. Our student body has a historical aversion to top-down policy decisions. Only a student initiative to popularize this powerful document will succeed.

Everyone at Carnegie Mellon — students, faculty, TAs, administrators — can do more to create an atmosphere where ethical conduct is the norm. However, a true culture change will only come when students lead the way.