Who is at fault for cheating?

by Staff

If actions taken by students break ethical boundaries, blacken the image of their department and soil the reputation of their university, shouldn’t the punishment fit the the crime?

Ongoing investigations in the San Diego State University journalism department allege that a handful of students were caught cheating on a broadcasting assignment late last semester. The assignment was to put together a short radio piece, including segments of a taped interview conducted by the student. The instructor of the class, Dianne Bartlow, has reason to believe that some of those interviews were faked.

Bartlow started to suspect something was amiss when she listened to an audio tape of an interview between one of her students and Leslie Wolf, a courthouse reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune. Wolf’s voice didn’t sound right, so Bartlow called Wolf and asked if she’d been interviewed by the student. She hadn’t.

Bartlow listened to the rest of the interviews and concluded that more than one sounded fishy. The class was officially finished and grades were due soon, so in the interest of time she gave the falsified interviews failing grades and weighed the assignment as usual. No one who cheated failed the class.

San Diego State University policy states that cheating is a crime punishable by expulsion, suspension, probation or a lesser sanction. So far a lesser sanction has been handed down to the journalism students, although that decision is still pending and could change.

Bartlow hadn’t spoken with any of the students she suspected of cheating when she gave them F’s. There’s no doubt the students played outside the rules, but was the teacher at fault as well? According to various students, Bartlow provided them with inadequate instructions regarding their assignment. If this is the case, then the students are not entirely to blame for their actions. However, they still must bear some responsibility for what they did. A careful review, both in the skill of the teacher involved and the department’s actions, needs to be conducted.

Cheating is inexcusable at any institution of higher learning, particularly in the journalism department, a field that demands honesty. If these students have to cheat their way through this major then they clearly belong elsewhere.

At the very least, the students in question deserve a failing grade for the class if they are found entirely at fault. They may have discredited their peers, their department and their school. If the teacher’s class was poorly taught, then the journalism department and SDSU need to evaluate their hiring policies. If integrity is not expected during student training, then it can’t be expected during a career in journalism.

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