May 27, 2007
Written by C.N.
Last month, officials at the Duke University Fuqua Business School announced that dozens of students were caught cheating on a take-home final exam and have received various degrees of punishment, ranging from expulsion, suspension, and/or a falling grade in the class. However, as Diverse Education reports, attorneys for some of the students claim that Asian students are being punished more severely than non-Asians:
Many of the students involved in the case at the Fuqua School of Business had been in the United States for less than a year and didn’t fully understand the honor code or judicial proceedings, says Durham attorney Robert Ekstrand. A faculty investigator pressured them to admit wrongdoing, so the students wrote confession letters, sometimes without understanding the specific accusations, he says. . . .
The students who were expelled from the university are all from Asian countries, Ekstrand says. If appeals fail, they’ll likely lose student visas and have to leave the country in the next couple of weeks. . . . Ekstrand also said honor code violations were mostly minor and unintentional. For example, some students shared a template in which data from the exam questions were typed into a spreadsheet, but no one shared the analysis or answers, he said.
The fact that the students from countries including China, Korea and Taiwan confessed instead of fighting the charges had to do with cultural norms, Ekstrand says. “Culturally, a confession or an admission of guilt can be a way to apologize.” Experts say students from other countries often arrive on U.S. campuses with different understandings about the boundaries on collaboration.
I have to admit that I have mixed feelings on this situation. On the one hand, as an educator, I take academic dishonesty very seriously and as such, I think those who cheated should be punished severely. As I’ve written about before on my other blog, many sociologists and other observers have noticed that cheating and other forms of dishonesty in society are increasingly commonplace, and even worse, being accepted as normal. In this case, the students involved also agreed to abide by the school’s honor code. With that in mind, I support full punishment for those who are guilty.
On the other hand, as an Asian American scholar, I also agree with the students’ attorney that there do seem to be cultural differences at play here. In most Asian countries, there has traditionally been an emphasis on the welfare of the group, rather than of the individual. As such, I can accept that many of the international Asian students felt that it was acceptable or normal to “collaborate” and share templates.
I also agree that there are varying degrees of cheating and academic dishonesty. For example, paraphrasing another source’s sentence without attribution is technically plagiarism but certainly would not be as severe as blatantly copying entire paragraphs verbatim from another source without proper attribution. In that sense, it seems to me that sharing a data template is different from sharing answers, which the students’ attorney argues did not occur.
In the end, I hope that Duke University will take all of these factors into consideration and punish those who are guilty in a fair manner — one that includes an understanding of any cultural differences that are involved.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Asians and the Duke Business School Cheating Scandal" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/05/asians-and-the-duke-business-school-cheating-scandal/> ().
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