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First school teachers, then sumo wrestlers, now economists…

Should we be surprised?

This article comes from a website called (I only posted part of the article here, follow the link to see the whole thing. Thanks to Patrick McCusker for providing the link to me.)

Cheating Scandal at Virginia

An ‘alarmingly large fraction” of the first-year class of economics graduate students at the University of Virginia were involved in a cheating incident that came to light this month, according to the department chair.

Department officials said that some problem sets from textbooks used in introductory graduate economics courses have answer keys online. At least one student found answers for a course taken by all first-year students, and apparently shared the information with classmates. Though the solutions were apparently available, David Mills, chair of the economics department, said students should have “known it was off-limits,” but that they instead “used it without the professor being aware.”

The extent of the involvement of individual students is not clear yet, but Mills said that it appears that “a good number of students, large enough that it was alarming” used the online cheat-sheets. He did not know the exact figure, but said it was a “large fraction of the [first-year] class,” which consists of just over 30 students. Some of the students may now face investigations by the institution’s honor committee.

Virginia is one of 99 institutions nationwide that have honor codes, according to the North Carolina based Center for Academic Integrity. The main thrust of Virginia’s code is that there is only one punishment available for students caught lying, cheating, or stealing: “permanent dismissal from the university.”

Mills said that he expects that one or two students might decide not to return after the summer, rather than face an investigation and possibly the ensuing trial from the honor committee and expulsion if convicted. He said he did not expect a mass exodus from the program. But Steven Stern, director of graduate studies in the economics department, said he expected the attrition rate to be “on the high side.” Still, he said there will be no shortage of teaching assistants next year, as there are plenty of graduate students looking to make extra money.

For now, Stern said the best way to launch a preemptive strike on future cheating is to “have instructors make their own problems, just not assigning any book problems.”

A few things surprise me about this article.

First, when I was in grad school, no one cared how you did on problem sets. They had nothing to do with your final grade. I got a “check minus” on every problem set in the most important fall quarter class the first year (Frank Fisher’s micro class), but I got an A in the class. Of all the things to cheat on, problem sets would be at the bottom of my list.

Second, I wonder how the professor didn’t notice. Either the students were creative, or the problems must have been pretty easy, so a lot of right answers weren’t surprising. At MIT and Chicago, I feel like hardly anyone ever gets
a completely right answer to anything.

Does the honor code apply to professors? If, say, a professor pretended to grade some undergraduate papers, but really a grad student did it, would the only choice be that the professor gets expelled?