A student of mine revealed that he did poorly on my (Zoom, of course) exam because he was on his phone helping his fraternity brothers. I know his cheating isn’t ethical — no dilemma there — but what about my role? I can’t stop cheating on Zoom, so should I do nothing? What is my responsibility in creating an environment where everyone is on the same plane for evaluation? Humberto B.
The best way to prevent people from succumbing to temptation is to reduce the temptation. So you can try to design a test that makes cheating harder. In the humanities, you might be able to ask students to write essays in real time on topics not announced in advance, for example. But things are harder with quantitative subjects, especially in combination with large class sizes. In the era of Chegg and Discord (an online tutoring service and a group-chat platform), not only answers but also “show your work” explanations for those answers can be at a student’s fingertips. Various online proctoring services are available, but none are complete solutions. And the sort of one-to-one discussions, and evaluations, that are possible in seminars may just not be feasible in large-enrollment classes. Still, sometimes reminding people of moral ideas can get them to live up to them. Here are three basic angles of approach.
First, there are considerations of character: Dishonesty is a vice. So is intellectual laziness, which can making cheating appealing as a substitute for effort, and so is the vanity that may make you seek a better grade than you deserve. You don’t want to be the kind of person who cheats.
Second, you have duties arising from your relationship with your teachers and your fellow students. It is a betrayal of the teacher’s trust if you try to pass off the work of others as your own or misrepresent your own level of comprehension. It’s disrespectful to your teachers, and of course, it’s unfair to fellow students who have kept to the rules, given that your work may be ranked higher than it ought to be.
I understand and admire your impulse here. Many departments I’ve worked in have an annual holiday collection from the faculty that is shared among the staff, with the expectation that higher-paid faculty will make a larger contribution. This has the advantage of feeling like an institutional or at least a collective expression of gratitude, rather than a personal one. And because it is customary, the practice does not significantly alter the nature of your relationships.
You’re proposing, by contrast, to give an amount of money that is not customary and not financially insignificant to the recipient. (I understand that yours isn’t an academic department with faculty members you can call on to pony up.)
Gifts change their meaning when they move from an expression of gratitude to having a meaningful impact on someone’s economic welfare. If you don’t repeat the gift next year, you don’t want your staff members thinking that you care about them less. Still, these aren’t ordinary circumstances, and what you thoughtfully propose to do will surely be understood in that context. Exceptional times can make people want to express their sense of mutual obligation in less traditional ways.