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On Sunday morning, October 2, I read with disbelief an Opinion piece in the Montana Standard (”Standard View”) providing advice on how we should not react to the cheating that had taken place at Tech over this summer. The writers of that piece have taken "political correctness" to new heights (depths!). It is a classic case of conclusions based on hope rather than actuality: data suddenly becomes irrelevant!

It is clear that the type and severity of the cheating at Tech was far beyond any in recent history; this was cheating at an unheard of scale! The data are a bit sketchy: “some 45 students” and … “many were foreign students” doesn’t give a very precise picture of exactly who and how many were involved. However, the sheer magnitude, in comparison to typical cases, may alleviate the need for exactness.

The last quote describing non-native origins is followed by this conclusion: “That last fact has produced predictable and depressing reactions of the knee-jerk variety.”

How arrogant! And how wrong! We are being told how not to react to events that clearly demonstrate cultural difference. I submit that “… some 45 students ...” is well beyond anecdotal evidence. Although one would hope for clearer definition, they can be considered usable data. Compare this to the attempts by the Standard View writers to provide background numbers which are, one can only surmise, intended to soften the severity of the blatant dishonesty. For example, and I quote:

 “Surveys over the past few years have consistently shown that that between 60 and 70 percent of college students admit cheating at least once.”

 While all cheating should be condemned, the typical college requires passing 40 courses in order to graduate. Comparing this summer’s some 46 cases of cheating in one course, to students cheating a few times in their 40 courses is ridiculous. These survey results are not even close to comparable to the Tech cheating this past summer!

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And a second example (presumably from the chancellor’s experience at Tech):

 “Chancellor Blackketter estimates academic dishonesty cases –- and they involve students of various backgrounds -- average at least one per week all year long.”

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Tech enrollment is now about 2,700 students, and the typical academic year is 30 weeks long. Combining these numbers with the Chancellor's estimates noted above yields an academic dishonesty rate of about one in 90 students ... light years away from the 46 out of an unrevealed (but likely less than 100) number of students. If one had more precise numbers, the average student class load numbers (probably approaching 10 courses per year) should also be factored in, which would make the 1 in 90 number even smaller (1 in 500?)

 Before offering the obligatory (and well deserved) thanks to Tech for valiantly upholding academic standards in their last paragraph, the writers admonish us to …”treat our international visitors as we would expect our children to be treated if they were studying abroad.”

 All well and good; however let us not be swayed by such sweet words…I have had two daughters study abroad. I, and they, never expected that they be allowed to violate the basic standards of decency prevailing in the locale in which they studied. Even if the prohibition of cheating was only a United States custom, is it asking too much of all students studying here to honor that custom? (And, of course, we are not alone in that custom.)

Finally, in the future, please don’t appoint yourselves community thought leaders, morally obligated to tutor the unwashed heathens on how to think. Instead you might consider that many of us have very different experiences and different data than you have on which to judge peoples and events. Especially given the remaining gaps in what is known, a wide range of reactions are to be expected. To label some of those expected reactions “knee jerk” is to disdain diversity of thought and is the epitome of narrow mindedness, even if the conclusion you reach is politically correct! A multitude of interpretations of any complex event should be welcomed.

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Jim Falvey, a 36-year resident of Butte, is an economist and sometimes college teacher at Hamilton College, SUNY Plattsburgh, Montana Tech and Montana Western.

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