The take-home exam in last spring's History 451 course that was supposed to take only a week became a five-month case study in cheating, detective work and human nature for History Professor Bruce Kuklick. One of the teaching assistants in Kuklick's War and Diplomacy class brought an exam to the professor last May, because he thought it was strange the student had used two typefaces in a single paper. Suspicious, Kuklick and the TA sifted through the other tests and found an identical paper turned in by someone else. Convinced that some students had cheated, Kuklick and all four course TAs systematically examined the 240 other submissions and found five pairs of matching or similar exams, which he turned over to the Judicial Inquiry Officer. As a result, 10 students were charged with cheating late last spring. Nine received Fs in the course. Five have been suspended. One student's diploma has been withheld. One was cleared. That initial suspicion by a history graduate student led to the University's largest prosecution of students in a single class, a case completed only last week. As part of their punishment, four students had to write anonymous confessions that Kuklick and the JIO are using in an increased campaign against cheating. Kuklick said the fact that students cheated in his upper-level class made him "embarrassed and even humiliated," but hopes the students' punishment and pain deter further academic dishonesty. · Kuklick's office in College Hall is filled with the books and papers collected in 20 years in academia. Sitting behind a seminar table, the American political history specialist said the cheating investigation had no winners. Nine students were punished. An innocent student was investigated for four months. And the professor has become suspicious of his students and somewhat disillusioned overall. Kuklick, a 1963 graduate of the College, said he never considered cheating during his undergraduate years at the University. He had never caught any student cheating in what he called a "premeditated way" in the past. But this semester he is requiring students to provide phone numbers for the people they interview for an oral history project. And he stood in front of a 400-person lecture last month and said, "I beg and urge you not to do anything that even looks shady. The chance of you getting caught, at least in my course, has escalated from last semester." "It really will ruin your lives," he told the class. He said he doesn't like these measures, but feels they are impossible to avoid. "[These are] all sorts of things that make it more like a prison," Kuklick said. "I hate thinking that a university, especially my University, is at all like that. But [cheating] shouldn't be the main thing on your mind when you assign a paper." "It is like picking up a big rock," he said. "I've learned that cheating in various form is more pervasive than I had imagined." For the History 451 final, the students had a week to complete two essay questions. According to Kuklick, the students who were punished each shared information or entire essays with other students. Two pairs of students traded essays with each other. Two pairs traded information and one person copied an entire essay from the other. In these cases, all students received Fs for the class, and five of the six students who copied were suspended for a semester. The other student's diploma has been withheld. One student stole an exam that had already been turned in and retyped it for himself. Kuklick called the last case "the nastiest." The thief never confessed and was found guilty last week only because he had changed the footnote references to incorrect numbers. After it was discovered that the footnotes were fake, the student accepted a settlement under which he received an F and was suspended retroactively for this semester. Kuklick said that the students' excuse that they were under pressure was "weak." "I think it is very weak," he said. "A lot of students, I am told, spend the weekends getting drunk. I think they would have less pressure if they found more helpful ways to spend their weekends." · In their confessions, which Goodman released to be printed without names, most students show pain and regret and some try to justify themselves. All say they were under academic and personal pressure, and all say they would never do it again. "I was looking for the easy way out," wrote one student who turned himself in. "I got overwhelmed by all the work I had to do and couldn't see past it." "My future is much more complicated," wrote another. "I should have thought about that before, but I didn't. Now it's too late . . . My chances at going to law school are gone. No place will accept a cheater." "I didn't think my grade in the course would affect anyone," wrote a then-senior whose diploma has been held because of the incident. "I truly convinced myself that my TA would not seriously look over my essays since I was pass/fail . . . He would just pass me." Kuklick said he blames the Greek system, intercollegiate athletics, and the Wharton School for perpetuating an atmosphere where cheating is accepted. All nine guilty students were involved with one of the three systems. "If I could get rid of fraternities I would," Kuklick said, adding that brothers' old exam files are one example of the system's unregulated problems. "Their culture breeds this sort of thing." Kuklick said that during the judicial proceedings a football coach who served as a judicial advisor for one of the students told him stories about team members' cheating. According to Kuklick, the coach said one current player has bragged to him that he has never taken an exam or turned in a paper that was completely his own work. He said this was only one example in "a whole series of revelations." "I was so astounded by this that I didn't say what I should have said, like 'why didn't you turn him in,'" Kuklick said. "Penn ought to stop making these overtures to athletes. It is lunatic to make this such a priority." Kuklick said the Wharton School and the business world in general teach students to value the end result, while liberal arts professors stress the learning process. He said he would like the Wharton undergraduate division to be eliminated, but "nobody has the guts to do that." · Goodman said she offered students the option of writing a anonymous confession to The Daily Pennsylvanian instead of receiving a notation on their transcripts, in hopes that publicizing the History 451 case might deter other students. "I've heard recently that kids think it is a joke to cheat," Goodman said. "Somehow we have to change the culture here and have students buy into the idea that cheating is wrong. We are intent on stopping cheating at Penn." Last year, Goodman prosecuted 50 cheating cases, almost double the number of the year before. Over the past two years, cheating cases handled by the JIO have risen almost four-fold. Goodman said she understands academic pressure but she would like students to seek other ways out, like asking a professor for an extension on a paper, rescheduling an exam, talking to an advisor, or seeking help at the tutoring center. · In a letter to Kuklick just after the cheating was discovered, one student made it obvious he or she didn't expect to be seriously punished. "If there is any way that I could make amends, I would like the chance to do so," the student wrote. "Whether it be retaking the course, retaking the final exam, writing a paper, or anything else you deem appropriate." Instead, the student failed the course and was forced out of the University for a semester. Goodman said she thinks explaining the sentence to family members and friends must have been the most humiliating part. She said "being JIO is like being a good parent -- you help children deal with an incident and move on in a healthy way." So far, the only concrete results of the incident in History 451 were the ends of six students' chances at a clean academic record and the beginning of a new crusade against cheating by Goodman and Kuklick. "This lesson is just too painful to learn," one student confessed in a letter Goodman released. "I will never make this mistake again, but I wish I had not learned the hard way. I only hope that someday I will be able to put this behind me." But Goodman and Kuklick both hope the lesson will hit home with current students before they have to feel the pain.Comments powered by Disqus
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