In the face of intense academic pressure, some international students choose to take risky shortcuts. While studying abroad, “academic integrity” should not be forgotten. Recently, a undergraduate student at UPenn Wharton School from China was expelled from the university due to cheating.
The student was involved in a cheating incident during an examination, collaborating with another student. After a two-month investigation, the university administration made the final decision to expel him. This was not the first time he had been involved in such misconduct, and UPenn has stated that the decision is irreversible, rejecting any further appeals.
This student had outstanding high school grades, graduating as the top student in a prestigious American high school with a score of 1590 on the SAT. He even secured summer internship offers from 7 investment banks, including Goldman Sachs, several months ago (all of which have been rescinded now). Despite his seemingly flawless record, the pressure of competition drove him to take such a risky path. He admitted that his motivation for cheating was his intense desire to achieve an “A” grade. He couldn’t bear the thought of having anything less than an “A” on his transcript, not wanting to disappoint his friends and parents.
However, as a result of being expelled from UPenn and receiving an “F” grade, he now carries a permanent stain on his academic record. Whether considering transferring to another institution or reapplying for undergraduate studies, he will find it extremely difficult to escape this “black mark” in his history. It is also unlikely that top-tier universities in the United States will admit him again, and even his future career prospects have been clouded with uncertainty. This serves as a reminder of the significant consequences and dangers of cheating.
The University of Pennsylvania, a renowned Ivy League institution, has seen its fair share of students falling victim to cheating.
Poojita Chinmay, a sophomore and pre-medical student at the university, spent several weeks preparing for her first chemistry exam in September. However, when she received her grades, she was shocked to see that the class average was 74%. According to her professor, this average was significantly higher than the previous years’ average of 50%.
Chinmay stated, “The cheating was very apparent. As someone who didn’t cheat on the exam, I felt disadvantaged because I chose to uphold my moral integrity.”
CHEM 102, a required course in the pre-medical curriculum, utilizes a curved grading system. In simple terms, the professor determines students’ final grades by evaluating their exam scores relative to the rest of the class. Chinmay explained that the pressure of future medical school applications, combined with the need to compete against classmates for high grades, has led to a widespread culture of cheating. Consequently, those who choose not to cheat find themselves at a disadvantage.
Chinmay’s experience is just the tip of the iceberg. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the University of Pennsylvania and other top-tier American universities have witnessed an exacerbation of cheating incidents. According to official reports from the University of Pennsylvania, the number of cheating cases has increased by 72% from the 2018-2019 academic year to the 2019-2020 academic year (which included the shift to online classes in March for the second semester). The incidents rose from 52 cases last year to 89 cases this year. Cases of “unauthorized collaboration and plagiarism” have also nearly doubled, rising from 34 cases to 63 cases.
In previous years, when students took exams in the same physical location, it was easier to detect cheating. However, online exams present an entirely different challenge, as students have more opportunities and methods to cheat.
Due to the lack of clear policies on cheating, some professors have taken matters into their own hands by implementing their own anti-cheating measures. For instance, they have started using “live proctoring” through video to monitor exams in real-time. They have also allowed open-book policies that permit students to refer to their notes during exams. In addition, professors have locked down browsers to confine students to the Canvas page and prevent access to other online resources.
However, despite these efforts, many instances of cheating are still occurring, and some professors remain indifferent or powerless in addressing the issue.
Carson Sheumaker, a sophomore student at the Wharton School of Business, has revealed that he estimates at least half of the students cheated on the first exam of the semester in STAT 102: “Business Statistics.” This is due to the fact that students were given 13 hours to complete 25 questions, creating ample opportunity for academic dishonesty. Additionally, the exam had only one version, making it easier for students to collude and share answers.
Sheumaker further stated, “I have heard of many students cross-referencing their answers with each other.”
Ananya Dewan, another sophomore student, has reported strange occurrences during the BIOL 221: Molecular Biology and Genetics exam. The average score on the first exam was remarkably high, raising concerns about academic integrity. Dewan believes that this may be the result of students exchanging text messages and even engaging in video chats during the exam.
“I am certain that some students were cheating! The professor mentioned in previous classes that the average score never exceeded 75%. However, now the average score has jumped to 85.5%,” Dewan stated.
Despite professors’ instructions for students to take exams within the designated class time, the exams were not remotely proctored via Zoom. Dewan believes that this may have led many students to choose the “risk-free” option of cheating.
She further added that the exam grades are curved, indicating a clear competition among students. As a result, those who did not cheat are at a disadvantage.
The majority of students believe that the curved grading system is the key factor contributing to the issue of cheating. Students have to compete against each other to obtain higher scores. However, without a curved grading system, it becomes challenging to ensure the level of participation in class and effort put in after class. If all students can achieve an A grade, the academic standards at Penn cannot be maintained.
A student at Penn stated, “If the school wants to address cheating, it’s definitely not just an isolated problem. I know many people cheat, but the reporting process is cumbersome, and the investigation and evidence collection procedures are also complicated. I think this is why many people ‘don’t bother reporting.’ Moreover, it’s difficult to have concrete evidence; most of the time, it’s based on what friends say. Everyone is taking exams from home, so what evidence can you have?”
Here are three real-life cases that serve as cautionary examples.
01 Open Book Exam Controversy
Student A, enrolled in a Top 30 public university, faced accusations of cheating during the final physics exam last semester. The professor had allowed an “open book” exam, permitting the use of textbooks and notes. However, approximately 30% of the class resorted to search engines and Chegg to look up answers. As a result, many responses closely resembled the provided solutions.
The professor reported all the suspicious answers to the Academic Integrity Committee. Despite Student A’s vehement denial, the professor remained steadfast in pursuing the matter. In the end, several students in the class received failing grades.
02 From "Carelessness" to "Cheating"
Student B, attending a prestigious private university ranked in the Top 20, found themselves in a predicament during an economics exam. They had failed to carefully read the exam instructions. The professor had instructed students to download the exam within a three-day window and complete it within two hours before uploading their answers.
However, fearing that they might forget about the exam, Student B downloaded the test onto their computer before going to bed (the professor could clearly see the time of download). Upon waking up, approximately 8 hours later, they proceeded to complete the exam and submitted it. Subsequently, both the professor and the teaching assistant accused Student B of cheating. They suspected that Student B had downloaded the exam in advance and peeked at the questions, which would explain why it took them 10 hours to “complete” the exam.
03 "Collaboration" Does Not Equal "Copying"
Student C, attending a respected private university ranked in the Top 30, stumbled upon a challenge in an international relations assignment. The professor had explicitly stated that students were allowed to collaborate and discuss the assignment. Consequently, Student C worked together with two Chinese students to complete the task. All three students submitted identical answers.
However, the professor promptly reported these three individuals to the school, accusing them of mutual plagiarism and violating academic integrity. The professor clarified that while students were encouraged to discuss the assignment, it did not imply that they could take shortcuts and outright copy each other’s answers. As a result, Student C was expelled from the university and must now reapply for admission.
04 How to Avoid Similar Situations?
The aforementioned cases demonstrate that cheating is prevalent even among students at prestigious universities, who often face greater pressure to achieve top grades. This serves as a wake-up call for all international students.
First and foremost, international students must not harbor any illusions of luck. Academic integrity requirements at American universities are stringent, and one should never take unnecessary risks.
Secondly, it is essential to carefully read and understand the instructions for exams and assignments. If any aspects are unclear, promptly seek clarification from the professor or teaching assistant. With many courses now conducted online, students are more prone to making inadvertent mistakes.
Of course, if you find yourself facing allegations of academic misconduct, it is crucial to communicate promptly with your professor and the university administration to resolve the issue as soon as possible. American universities generally provide students with the opportunity to appeal.
In conclusion, academic integrity is an absolute red line that must not be crossed! Let us all take this as a cautionary reminder.