With finals week either already here or rapidly approaching, college students who have spent the semester boozing and playing video games might find themselves in a bit of a hole on the studying front. If they’re particularly unprepared, some slackers might feel tempted to do a little cheating to help them avoid summer school. Be careful, though; while Zack Morris and Mike Seaver may have made cheating look hilarious, there can be pretty sweeping repercussions. Just look at these epic college cheating scandals.
Getting to know your classmates and learning how to work together is a huge part of business school. In 2007, though, 34 first-year MBA students at Duke took things a bit too far. When faced with a take-home open-book exam they were supposed to work on individually, the students decided to instead collaborate on the test. Of course, when that many people work on a test together, the answers are going to be suspiciously similar, and the professor quickly sniffed out the trickery. After the dust settled, 34 students – nearly 10% of Duke’s first-year class – found themselves expelled, suspended, or failed for the unauthorized group work.
In 2004, several professors at the University of Maryland’s business school heard rumblings that students had cheated on a midterm, but they couldn’t really prove anything. To fight back, though, they decided to set up a sting operation for the final exam. Before the test, they posted an “answer key” that consisted of nothing but wrong answers on their website. Any student who used his cell phone or PDA to access the answer key during the exam would think they had struck cheating gold, when in actuality they were just giving themselves away as cheaters. The professors’ plan worked, and 12 of the 400 students in the class flunked after turning in papers that were obviously copied from the bogus answer key.
1994 was not a banner year for the United States Naval Academy; that spring, 134 seniors were involved in a cheating scandal that caused such a stir it became national news. Somehow, a student obtained a copy of an electrical engineering exam early and started distributing copies of it for as much as $50 a pop. Students either practiced their answers before the exam or snuck in notes of the relevant formulas. After a lengthy investigation, Navy Secretary John H. Dalton expelled 24 midshipmen, including several members of the football team, and disciplined 62 others for honor code violations.
When automotive heir Henry Ford II attended Yale in the 1930s, he must not have been the world’s greatest student. When he had to write a thesis on the novels of Thomas Hardy, he did what any enterprising car mogul would do: he outsourced the assignment to another student in exchange for cash. According to a possibly apocryphal story that Ford later denied, the jig was up when the professor opened up the paper and the other student’s bill for writing the essay fell out. With such damning evidence against him, Ford admitted he cheated and never graduated from Yale.
Lots of colleges make students pledge that they will follow some sort of honor code, and don’t think the schools don’t mean it. In 2001, the University of Virginia, a school with a longstanding honor code, had to drop the hammer on an absurdly large cheating racket. Professor Louis A. Bloomfield realized that students in his popular “How Things Work” introductory physics class had been turning in identical 1,500-word papers over the course of the previous five semesters. Bloomfield hadn’t noticed because the class was so large; each semester’s roster had between 300 and 500 students on it.
After running every paper he’d received through a computer program to look for identical essays, Bloomfield realized that as many as 158 students may have plagiarized their papers. The school aggressively prosecuted the plagiarizers under the honor code and eventually expelled 45 of them. Three other students got an even worse fate; since they’d already graduated, UVA revoked their degrees.
Getting a good score on the Graduate Management Admission Test is a key step to getting into a top MBA program, and since the admissions market is so tight, it’s only natural that students would try to find as much test prep material as they could. Last summer, though, thousands of students who had perused the test site ScoreTop got a rather nasty surprise. The site had been posting “live” GMAT questions with answers, which meant that students could potentially know the answers to a few of their test questions before the exam even began.
At first, all 6,000 of the site’s subscribers were worried their GMAT scores might be invalidated, but in the end only 72 students had their scores cancelled after investigators learned they had accessed the live questions. These students were allowed to immediately retake the GMAT. Twelve other students weren’t so lucky, though; these were the students who had actually memorized the questions and posted them on the site. Test administrators also cancelled their scores, but they weren’t allowed to retake the GMAT for another three years, which put a pretty large damper on their MBA dreams.
Dentists seem like a rather honest, unassuming sort, right? Apparently not at the Indiana University School of Dentistry. A scandal rocked the school in 2007 when second-year dental students figured out a way to hack into the computer system that held their exams. Once inside, students could study the X-rays on which they were going to be tested, so when the exam rolled around, they already knew all the answers. The amazing thing about this scandal wasn’t that it happened, but its scope; nearly half of the second-year class had some hand in it. At the end of the investigation, nine students were expelled, 16 more were suspended, and another 21 received letters of reprimand.
Strangely, that might not even be the most troubling dental school cheating scandal of the last few years. In the spring of 2006, 18 students at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey got caught in a cheating ring right before they graduated. Their scam involved the clinical credits each student needed to graduate; to get their degree, each student had to perform X number of root canals, Y number of fillings, etc. Instead of earning all of these credits the honest way, students swapped and sold their credits to each other.
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