Editor’s note: This blog is written by Richard Anderson, Business Program Chair, Minnesota School of Business – Shakopee.
Okay, I admit I’m as naïve as the goal posts at MOA Stadium. I mean, I certainly knew that lots of people cheat. They cheat to get a better job, cheat to rob you of your hard earned money, cheat to win in sports, and so on. I know it goes on. But I have to say, I was shocked to see the headlines about massive cheating at Harvard. I asked myself, just how widespread is cheating and has it changed over the years? My mind raced with the thought of doing honest research – how prevalent is cheating in school?
I was as we say, knocked on my DERRIERE! Back in 1940, only 20 percent of college students admitted to cheating during their academic careers. Today, that number has increased to a range of 75%-98%. Most students cited that cheating was necessary to stay ahead of their peers and, in fact, 85% of students thought cheating was essential. The same poll revealed that 16.5% of the students didn’t regret it, and the pièce de résistance . . . wait, wait, wait, 34% of college faculty didn’t see cheating as a problem. WHAT!!!!!!!
They merely point to places like Atlanta. Cheating on 2009 standardized tests in Atlanta Public Schools was widespread and apparently didn’t start that year. There were “significant and clear” warnings that an environment of fear and intimidation ruled the system, and thousands of students were harmed by cheating. The cheating resulted primarily from “pressure to meet targets” in the data-driven system, it was said. How likely are those students who benefited from cheating to succeed? Cheating even happens in Scrabble. In 2010, a boy was caught palming the blanks and ejected from the tournament. Apparently he was “one of the top young Scrabble players” in America. Not anymore!!!!
I’m still stuck on the fact that 34% of college faculty though it was acceptable to cheat and fully expected students to do so! OMG!!!! Sophocles once said, “I would prefer even to fail with honor than to win by cheating”. I saw that quote on the wall at one of my first jobs – a cook at KFC. It has stayed with me throughout my career. So I must say, I am appalled that my peers would simply accept that cheating happens and that’s life. And, oh by the way, what’s so wrong with it?
Cheating is not a fact of life. It is a learned trait! Integrity, ethics, and honesty are characteristics mandatory in leadership, not slickness, underhanded behavior, and the ends justify the means attitude. There is no honor in winning by cheating – ask Barry Bonds, Ken Lay, Bernie Madoff or Boris Onishchenko, better known as “Boris the Cheat”.
What about failure with honor? Well, do we remember Henry Ford? He wasn’t an instant success. In fact, his early businesses failed and left him broke five times before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company.
What about Albert Einstein? He did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow, and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. It might have taken him a bit longer, but I think most students would agree that he caught on pretty well in the end.
Or we can look at Thomas Edison. In his early years, teachers told Edison he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Work was no better, as he was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive enough. Even as an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Of course, all those unsuccessful attempts finally resulted in the design that worked.
And of course we have Abraham Lincoln. While today he is remembered as one of the greatest leaders of our nation, Lincoln’s life wasn’t so easy. In his youth he went to war a captain and returned a private (if you’re not familiar with military ranks, just know that private is as low as it goes, trust me I know.) Lincoln didn’t stop failing there, however. He started numerous failed businesses and was defeated in numerous runs he made for public office. These people didn’t connive and cheat to get ahead; they sucked it up and kept moving forward with integrity and honor.
Yes, I have been tempted to cheat. I don’t think you would be human if you were never tempted. One of my moments came in my nonparametric methods statistical class. I was really struggling and, as I have said, I was always a crammer. I rationalized all the typical excuses including “it’s not fair” and all that garbage, and then I had to make my decision – cheat and survive another day or bomb. While each of us arrives at critical decisions differently, I made mine. Partly because of fear of getting caught, embarrassment that I would personally fail, and Sophocles (you know, the guy on the KFC wall), I decided not to cheat and do a mea culpa with my professor. I told him I wasn’t ready and that it was entirely my fault. I was totally prepared to accept my grade but hoped that he might consider the alternative that I could learn the material and successfully pass the course, and, if given the opportunity, I would not disappoint. He told me to take the test with normal indignation that I am sure I show all of you students when I hear your excuses, and he would consider my request. I did, I failed, and he allowed me to retake it. I aced it! May I be so understanding with my students!!!!
It is my belief that integrity is not a sometimes event. It is not conditional. It doesn’t show up on a nice day or change as the weather changes. It is your self-image, and if you were to look in a mirror and see a person who would not cheat, then you never will. Cheating in my view is a weakness, an inability to have enough confidence in yourself that you can succeed. I refuse to accept cheating as a fait accompli. Students, trust me when I say, cheating will not get you ahead. It may seem momentarily that you have gained the system, but is like a cancer that will eat away at you. There is no shame in failing. It is a learning process.
Now I know why graduates from Ivy League institutions showed no traceable impact in greater success – THEY CHEAT!!!!