A Question of Honor: Cheating on Campus Undermines the Reputation of Our Universities and the Value of Their Degrees
Cheating on campus undermines the reputation of our universities and the value of their degrees. Now is the time for students themselves to stop it
One of the gloomiest recent reports about the nation’s colleges and universities reinforces the suspicion that students are studying less, reading less, and learning less all the time: “American higher education is characterized,” sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa said last year, “by limited or no learning for a large proportion of students.” Their book, Academically Adrift, joins a widening, and often negative, reassessment of what universities contribute to American life. Even President Obama has gotten into the act, turning one problem with higher education into an applause line in his latest State of the Union address. “So let me put colleges and universities on notice,” he said: “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury—it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”
Where should we lay the blame for the worsening state of one of the foundations of American civilization, one that has long filled us with justifiable pride? The big public universities are already bogged down by diminishing financial support from the states; private education is imperiled by tuition costs that discourage hundreds of thousands of middle-class and poorer students from applying. Some schools have made heroic attempts to diversify their student bodies, but too little financial aid is available to make access possible for all the applicants with academic promise.
What is happening inside the classroom for those who do get in? Who is teaching the students? Less and less often it is a member of an institution’s permanent faculty, and rarer still one of its distinguished professors. More and more of the teaching has been parceled out to part-time instructors who have no hope of landing a full-time position. Because of this, their loyalty to the school that hired them, and to the students they will probably meet in just one course and never again, has diminished.
Amid such melancholy reports from the front, campus amusements that have nothing to do with education—intercollegiate athletics leads the festivities—sop up money, keep coaches in the headlines, and divert public attention from the essential mission of education: to strengthen the minds of young people and to prepare them to cope with the demands of life.
Perhaps that is why, when the public is asked about colleges and universities, the response is increasingly negative with each passing year. According to the Pew Research Center, most American citizens (57 percent) say that higher education “fails to provide good value for the money students and their families spend.” Within the innermost sanctum of the academy the view is almost the same: “About four-in-ten college presidents say the system is headed in the wrong direction,” according to Pew. If university presidents, who by profession and temperament routinely find every glass more than half-full, are so disconsolate, the public can’t be expected to be optimistic.