Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Why cheating has become the norm

The rise of ‘essay mills’ reflects the commodification of university.

Here we go again. The UK government has once more discovered that cheating is flourishing in the university system. Earlier this year, the Department for Education warned that it was considering implementing a crackdown on students buying essays online. Not only would it fine students who submitted commercially produced essays as their own work — it was also considering giving them criminal records, too. Nothing happened. Now, this week, universities minister Jo Johnson is demanding new guidelines to prevent ‘unacceptable and pernicious’ cheating.

As usual, Johnson and other policymakers are focusing their energy on the most trivial dimension of the problem of cheating in universities. In this case, the professional essay mills. Essay-mill websites, which market ‘original’, professionally produced essays, allow students to circumvent their university’s plagiarism-detection system. In effect, these businesses help well-off students to purchase a degree. However, they play a minor role in the culture of cheating in higher education.

Plagiarism was growing long before the invention of essay-mill websites. Instead of acknowledging the corrosive impact of cheating, university administrators, academics and the National Union of Students have always found an excuse to diminish the scale of the problem. According to the NUS, students cheat because they are facing unprecedented economic pressures. Amatey Doku, NUS vice-president for higher education, has claimed that some students are turning to essay mills because the pressure to get the highest grades is often ‘overwhelming’ now that students face debts of £50,000 or more.

But why should economic pressure turn students into cheats? In any case, it is not the poor but the affluent who can afford to fork out hundreds of pounds to pay for an essay.

From time to time academic experts point the finger at overseas students, who, it is said, have no inhibitions about copying other people’s work. They claim that international students come from a different educational culture where reproducing other people’s work is considered the norm. Another frequently cited excuse is the internet: the practice of copying and pasting that students adopt in school is used to explain its continuation in higher education.

However, none of these excuses explains why cheating has become an increasingly acceptable practice in higher education.

The source of the problem is to be found within the university system itself. The academy does little to promote norms that affirm the intrinsic integrity and value of education. When the pursuit of knowledge and the importance of ideas are not taken seriously, students adopt a pragmatic and instrumental approach to their work. What is really disturbing is not that students cheat, but that they do not believe they have done something that is fundamentally wrong. As far as they are concerned, they are playing the system. They are acting in accordance with the instrumental values they have internalised in school and in higher education. The idea that the goal of education is to get a good grade and get on in life has helped lift the stigma attached to cheating.

Universities have taken to treating their students as customers. They should not be surprised that, as a result, values associated with academic integrity have lost their influence over undergraduates. Students today tend to regard their relationship with academics as a commercial transaction, rather than as an intellectual relationship. Like all customers, many students are looking for a good deal. But don’t blame them. They’ve merely adopted the role assigned to them by successive governments. If universities continue to treat education like a financial transaction, cheating will become even more normal.


Mississippi school district removes To Kill a Mockingbird from middle school lesson plan because it 'makes people uncomfortable'

The N-word again

A school district in Mississippi is removing To Kill a Mockingbird from a middle school reading list. 

The Sun Herald reports that Biloxi administrators pulled the novel from the eighth-grade curriculum this week. School board vice president Kenny Holloway says the district received complaints that some of the book's language 'makes people uncomfortable.'

'There were complaints about it,' she said. However, the school board did not vote on the decision

Published in 1960, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Truman Capote
Harper Lee deals with racial inequality in a small Alabama town.

A message on the school's website says  To Kill A Mockingbird teaches students that compassion and empathy don't depend upon race or education. Holloway says other books can teach the same lessons.

The Sun Herald received a email that said the decision was made 'mid-lesson plan, the students will not be allowed to finish the reading of To Kill A Mockingbird .... due to the use of the 'N' word.'

The reader said: 'I think it is one of the most disturbing examples of censorship I have ever heard, in that the themes in the story humanize all people regardless of their social status, education level, intellect, and of course, race. It would be difficult to find a time when it was more relevant than in days like these.'

The book remains in Biloxi school libraries.

The decision to remove the book from the curriculum set the internet ablaze in anger. 'To Kill a Mockingbird should be required reading. This is insane' one user wrote.

'Until I saw To Kill a Mockingbird I couldn't visualize how someone's lie could get a person killed. This should be required reading' another said.

'You know what makes me uncomfortable? Censorship. That's what makes me uncomfortable. Say NO to book banning!' A Twitter user posted.

'If To Kill a Mockingbird makes you uncomfortable you should probably be reading To Kill a Mockingbird' one person pointed out.


White nationalist Richard Spencer gets the go-ahead for a speech at the University of Cincinnati sparking fears of violence

The University of Cincinnati says it will allow white nationalist leader Richard Spencer to speak on campus, while Ohio State University says it can't accommodate a rental request for a Nov. 15 speech but is considering alternatives.

UC president Neville Pinto said in an email that the university is finalizing details of Spencer's visit and promises to make safety a priority.

Pinto said in the university-wide email on Friday that Spencer's 'ideology of hate and exclusion is antithetical' to the university's core values but that as a public institution it had to allow Spencer to speak because of his constitutional right to free speech.

'It is the power and promise of (our) diversity to change the world for the better that has the hate-filled so unsettled,' Pinto said. 'We ask for your patience, support, and understanding as we prepare for a trying time for our community.'

The director of Ohio State's legal office, Christopher Culley, said in a letter that it couldn't accommodate a request for Spencer to speak on Nov. 15 'without substantial risk to public safety' but expects to decide if there are 'viable' alternatives by the end of next week.

An attorney for Spencer's associates, Kyle Bristow, said in a press release that he would hold off on suing the schools after earlier writing emails saying they had until Friday to agree to make campus space available for Spencer or face a lawsuit.

Both universities were contacted last month about allowing Spencer to visit but had delayed making final decisions.

'I imagine similar reviews are not required of politically left-wing events on campus, and your 'review' is therefore unconstitutionally discriminatory in and of itself,' Bristow wrote to the universities at the time.

Bristow is the founder of a law firm dedicated to legal advocacy on behalf of a loose collection of white nationalists, white supremacists and anti-immigration populists called the alt-right.

The Ohio universities are the latest targeted for appearances by Spencer since he participated in an August white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to deadly violence.

The Charlottesville rally left universities across the U.S. bracing for more clashes between right-wing extremists and those who oppose them.

It also left schools struggling to ensure campus safety in the face of recruiting efforts by white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups while balancing concerns over freedom of speech.

Spencer is scheduled to speak Oct. 19 at the University of Florida. That university's president is urging students to stay away from Spencer's appearance and to speak out against 'hate and racism.'

UF says it expects to spend $500,000 on security for the event. It said as a public institution it is legally obligated to allow the expression of many viewpoints by external groups, such as Spencer's National Policy Institute.


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