Lax Repercussions for Academic Dishonesty

Kavya Gupta

Few in our school are strangers to the whispers of rumored cheating slipping through the crowded hallways. However, as quickly as it’s born, the speculation dies down, often with no ensuing result from the accusation. In the past couple years, several scandals have arisen, but for the most part, the accused students come out relatively unscathed, much to the frustration of their peers. Thus, the question remains, what’s the harm in cheating?
On the outside, the administration has appeared to uphold a lax system of consequences for cheating, as repercussions seem to be minimal. Let’s make a cost-benefit analysis: the benefits of academic dishonesty include improving one’s grades, and in turn, GPA. The drawbacks typically comprise of the implication of oneself as academically dishonest on their college transcript, a zero on the assignment, or in the class itself, loss of privileges such as participation in school events and in extreme cases, suspension or expulsion from the school.
However, at Cupertino, not only is the incriminated student allowed to continue their education in the specific course, but they’re permitted to proceed with their school life equally intact to what they had before the incident. More often than not, we hear the most baffling element of the story: the incident will be removed from the student’s transcript. Regardless of the degree to which a student cheated, as long as it’s the student’s first misdemeanor, the incident is not reported to college admissions officers.
Apart from the nuisance of being ostracized by the students in the respective department, with the approach the administration takes to handle academic dishonesty, cheating appears as a sound and rational method to improve one’s chances of receiving admittance to a respectable college. Therefore, the problem seems to be that Cupertino’s administration currently comes short of its expectations to discourage cheating. They fail to enforce their spoken disciplinary punishments and neglects their responsibility to implement cheating-prevention methods in test-taking environments.
Our society seems to promote that one should do whatever it takes to be successful. In our school, a typical mentality our student body fosters is that the administration doesn’t care what you do to get good test scores. In the end, as long as the crisis is shrouded, the only thing an outsider sees is the excellent reputation the school has for top-notch students. When grades do not commensurately represent learning, students rightly feel cheated by the system and become apathetic. Expecting students to maintain academic integrity in the highly competitive environment enveloping the Bay Area is offensively disingenuous and hypocritical. Students are willing to take a chance when they think they can keep up the ruse, and they’re more inclined to believe they can get away with it.
Therefore, it falls on the administration to discourage such behavior with consequences that genuinely threaten the same factors that incentivize students to cheat. The term ‘consequences’ includes more than a two-day suspension from class — such behavior should be explicitly stated on college transcripts, and the dropped course should appear as an F in the grade book. High school is meant to prepare students for possible further education in college; if that’s the case, our school’s system for disciplining academic dishonesty should match the level of consequences administered by most colleges. In the case of egregious cheating, students can be placed on academic probation, or in harsher situations even suspended or expelled from the school. Students who steal other people’s copyrighted material may also face legal action.
At the same time, targeting smaller habits that don’t demonstrate academic integrity backfires, damaging the administration’s credibility. Punishing something as small as copying an answer to homework off of a friend’s paper during tutorial comes off as a pretense to show students that something is being done about the cheating problem at school. Meanwhile, legitimately harmful instances like participation in systematic cheating rings go unpunished. When the student body implicates more than one student, the excuse that there isn’t enough evidence to appropriately punish them no longer stays valid. The fact that more than one student is associated with the scandal is evidence enough. The student body is collectively, if not individually, aware of every participant affiliated with the original suspect; suspending the first offender isn’t enough. Instead of the singular suspension serving as a future deterrent, it instead warps the common mentality into selecting a scapegoat for a group’s actions.
Furthermore, teachers are often unaware of the cheating scandals that occur in departments that aren’t their own. Even if the incident is taken off of someone’s transcript, all teachers should be informed so they can take precautions for their classes. If a student is cheating in one class, there’s a high chance they are cheating in another as well. The student who cheated is not dropped from the course, nor are they given different test versions or a change in seating. If it’s someone who peeks over at a partner’s paper, an accommodating change is customary. Cheating prevention methods aren’t strictly enforced in every class. When a teacher doesn’t go out of their way to create several versions of a test or separate desks during a quiz, it becomes easier to cheat and even encourages it since the lack of attention to detail appears as apathy.
Admittedly, the frustrations of a student body when another instance of academic dishonesty goes unpunished can be countered with the statement that sometimes rumors are indeed just rumors. Even if they aren’t, if the administration doesn’t have enough evidence to implicate a student, nothing can be done. However, it doesn’t really matter what actually happens to one student when the outside perception that other students have of the penalty system is so amorphous and confusing. The key is transparency; as long as the student body is kept in the dark about why a student goes unpunished, the rampant rumors will only stir more resentment for the administration and growing incentive for cheating.
There are plenty of simple techniques the administration can implement to discourage cheating, the first of which is to create a school honor code that clearly spells out ethical behavior and defines academic misconduct while keeping in mind that taking pictures of a test will result in much harsher consequences than copying off a friend’s homework. This requires establishing specific penalties for those who plagiarize or cheat on exams. These penalties can include written reprimands on records, a failing grade or zero on the assignment or test, a failing grade or dismissal from the course, loss of privileges such as participation in school sports and events, suspension, or academic, disciplinary or athletic probation. The most important objective is for the administration to follow through with their threats. Letting students get away with academic dishonesty damages the school’s credibility.
If Cupertino High School wishes to uphold its reputation for molding stellar students, the responsibility of maintaining academic integrity falls not onto the already-overburdened shoulders of the students; rather, it falls to the administration to address the concerns appropriately. For every accused cheater who, for the most part, has proven to be guilty to the student body that seemingly gets away with academic dishonesty, several more students fall into the mentality of being capable of cheating without suffering consequences perhaps to gain an advantage. It is undoubtedly impossible for the administration to catch every cheater in our school, but by being stricter and tougher on the cheating policy, the allure of cheating is severely diminished.