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Cheating in college is OK

Photo credit: Dongyoung Won

Photo credit: Dongyoung Won

William Rein

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Even though college is supposed to be for adults and the action of applying to colleges is symbolic for independence, state and federal curriculum still requires General Education courses to create the “balanced citizen.”

It’s not altogether unreasonable for the government to try and instill values, but it is authoritarian to assume these values need be shared by everyone across the board — especially when students go to college specifically to pursue what they want to and they pay for.

It takes an illegitimate government to force students to take additional courses for that government’s own interests. General Education classes, then, should be recognized — covertly — as fair game for cheating. These courses are often taught with lackluster boredom on the teacher’s part and utter disinterest from the students’ — often hundreds at a time.

Getting upset with others for cheating in a course is insipid. These are the same students that get upset when they score a high grade on an exam but no other student does, and so the teacher gives everyone a retry. It is emotional and foolish to be bothered by others’ advanced opportunities for success.

A similar line of thought underlies a common argument against raising the minimum wage: “When I was working at McDonald’s, I only earned $9, so it’s unfair that new workers now get $15.” This is a pitiful sort of complaint if the wage raise doesn’t personally hurt the complainer. (This isn’t to say that raising the minimum wage is a good idea. Reading comprehension is key. I also never said that I’ve cheated.)

The biggest objection to cheating in college is usually that it’s somehow unfair to the rest of the student body. Another might be that by agreeing to participate in competitive education, each student agrees to an implicit contract that prohibits plagiarism and using means other than your own (and that this contract must be followed while remaining in school). These are interesting but not very convincing.

However, much more provocative as a rebuttal is that cheating “devalues” everyone’s degree from that particular college in that particular year. By not working honestly for graduation, everyone’s hard work is diminished; a single person impacts the class. In addition, it can negatively affect the school: If an employer sees a degree on a resume, but in interviewing the applicant discovers he or she knows very little, the school suffers in reputation.

These have more weight than the “unethical” myth about cheating. Nonetheless, this devaluing only happens in students’ heads, and students do not owe their school a reputation.

Plagiarism, too, is a problem. The ethics of stealing someone else’s work are muddy. There are many ways to cheat besides plagiarizing, though, that rely more on creativity and resourcefulness than copying and pasting.

The persisting idea that it’s honorable and necessary to not cheat in college should die. These are arguments to justify people’s actions for their own comfort. There is no “pick yourself up from the bootstraps” sentiment to protect General Ed from cheating: 85 percent of students believe that some form of cheating is necessary to get ahead.

We don’t generally feel an ethical obligation to engage with the law honestly. We shouldn’t feel an obligation to participate fairly in the classes the government forces us to take in the avenues that we personally pay for. Cheating is not an absolutely necessary part of passing classes, but when you don’t care about the class and the teacher hardly cares that they’re teaching, it just makes sense.

William Rein can be reached at [email protected] or @toeshd on Twitter.

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Cheating in college is OK