Thursday, September 28, 2006

On Cheating

A couple things recently got me thinking about cheating and plagiarism in law school. First, I came across a Reuters article about cheaters. According to the article, a recent survey of 5300 students in the US and Canada found that 45% of law students admitted to cheating. 45%! Furthermore, the nameless journalist (although, I'm not one to criticism him or her on this point) quotes Donald McCabe, a Rutgers University professor as saying that:
[I]t's likely that more students cheat than admit to it.
Okay. So what do they mean by "cheating"? The survey defined "cheating" as including:
(a) copying the work of other students,
(b) plagiarizing, and
(c) bringing prohibited notes into exams.
I have to admit, I have a hard time believing that the number is so high. Each one of these three is very serious. I would be surprised if a student were merely borrowing notes from another student and misunderstood it to be "cheating". One comment sheds some light on why the students are cheating:
[B]usiness school students described cheating as a necessary measure and the sort of practice they'd likely need to succeed in the professional world.
And law school students need to cheat to refine the skills that they will need to succeed on Bay Street?

Second, the Assistant Dean sent out an email over the listserv reminding us about Queen's University's Code of Conduct. Sometimes I like to believe that law school students do not need to be reminded of things like:
The following conduct is unacceptable and constitutes an offence within the University community:
(e) all forms of academic dishonesty such as plagiarism, cheating, furnishing false information to the University, forgery, misuse of university documents.
Do law students need to be reminded of such things? Yes, it seems like we do. Let me share a story.

Last year, I took Legal Ethics (great course, BTW). In one of the first classes, my professor reminded us that plagiarism was forbidden. He wanted to make sure that we understood because the previous class he taught, a student actually plagiarized an entire paper (for Legal Ethics!) and handed it in. My professor was forced to give this student an "F". Personally, I think the student got off easy. So we were forewarned. After the course, I was looking at the grade distribution and I noticed that, again, one student got an "F". I can't confirm that another student plagiarized a paper, but our professor did say, during his mini lecture, that he couldn't see another reason to give a student an "F".

In Randy Cohen's book The Good, the Bad & the Difference: How to Tell the Right From Wrong in Everyday Situations, he has a nice take on cheating and plagiarism:
As unlikely as it may seem, a paper is not merely a dreary obligation to be discharged but a chance to learn, and that's what your pro is trying to get you to do. (page 219)
While I'm on the topic (and I hope I'm not on a soapbox here), we read an insightful article in Legal Ethics on what to expect as a Bay Street lawyer: On Being a Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhappy, Unhealthy, and Unethical Profession. You may be able to find it here, QL or WL. Take the article with a grain of salt. It is simply one lawyer's experience.

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