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I am doing my final year of undergraduate. Mostly I am working on my Honours project but I have a few units from earlier years that I am still doing as I did some out of order.

Another student, call him John, sent me a message on Facebook (via the message people who are not your friends feature.), saying basically:

"Can you send me the solutions to the Assignment from unit X, that you took last year. In exchange, I will tell you what the future minitest questions are for unit Y that we are both doing this year."

Attempted Collusion is not explicitly mentioned in the Universities Academic misconduct guide.

Unit Y has weekly minitests, that are worth in total something like 15% of our final grade. The minitests happen during tutorials. There are 3 tutorials each week, on different days, with roughly a third of the class in each. Each minitest is the same, across all streams. They are mostly a way to check up and see that you understand the content.

They have at the top of each page:

IT IS NOT PERMITTED TO TAKE THIS PAPER AWAY FROM THE TUTORIAL SESSION OR TO DIVULGE ITS CONTENT


John is in the first tutorial of the week. So he would find out the questions first, then could tell me them so I could study for them, for when my tutorial is.

What he apparently doesn't realize is that I too am in the first tutorial group (with him).

I guess Unit X is using the same assignment as last year. Or a similar one. Or that John thinks it is.

A complicating factor is that I really dislike John. He doesn't seem to have realised this. I find him personally annoying, and consider him a poor student. I don't understand how he has managed to pass enough units to have not been suspended for poor performance. It may be he is very good at exams, or it may be that he has been cheating all along.

I have a number of options, and could do one or more of them:

  • Ignore it, and block him on Facebook.
  • Tell him no, and refer him to the universities plagiarism/cheating policy
  • Speak to the Professor of Unit Y about it (that we are both studying).
  • Speak to the Professor of Unit X about it.
  • Speak to the Head of School (sub-department), who is above both units
  • Speak to the University Dean. Who is in charge of enforcing the Academic Misconduct policy. (Will probably mean going though channels)

In my case, by coincidence, Unit X is being taught by the Head of School (who I have never studied under). But in the General Case both options exist, and I can approach him, either as the Head of School or as the Professor of the unit, I guess.

I think that ignoring is probably a bad option, if someone sees that I have been asked about this, and left it without response, they might think this is normal behaviour for me.

If I go to faculty, he may be suspended. I worry that I am a bit too willing for that possibility as I don't like him. On the other hand it isn't my job to decide the consequences of his actions.


Update: I have spoken to the coordinator of Unit Y. Who said if I wanted he would take it to the Dean but that it would involve me having to do stuff. He also said to contact the coordinator of Unit X (who happens to he head of school). He is out of the country for a week so I sent him an email (CCed to the coordinator of Unit Y). I also responded to John, saying No, and referring him to the Academic Misconduct policy.

Update2: I got a response from the Coordinator of Unit X, saying he would look into it. Unit X coordinator is on long-service leave (Not sure how that is going with him still coordinating the unit. He may be doing only light administrative tasks. Or it may be he forwarded it to the new coordinator).

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Just tell John "no, thanks." –  Mad Jack May 11 at 15:08
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Voting to close as off-topic, since this is a question about a problem facing an undergraduate student. –  Ben Crowell May 11 at 17:39
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@BenCrowell This could just as well apply to a graduate student. –  hesson May 11 at 18:49
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Correction: a simplifying factor is that you really dislike John. There's no friendship to complicate things. I would talk to one (or both) of the professors. At the least, they will know to keep a special eye out for misconduct from John in the future. –  Moriarty May 11 at 19:10
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@BenCrowell: Are undergrads not part of academia? (At the very least they will be, so giving advice is just paying it forward.) –  Raphael May 12 at 7:00

7 Answers 7

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Putting such a request in a written, verifiable manner as this student has done is incredibly dumb, and frankly merits whatever punishment is associated with this.

Although in principle you could simply ignore the request, I think this is one of those cases where you're better off reporting it. Otherwise, there's still the possibility that "John" could bring you down with him (he wrote you a note, after all!). So I would write to him declining the offer, and then report it.

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I agree that declining the offer in writing has no downside and is a good idea, but what is the rationale for reporting this person? –  Faheem Mitha May 11 at 15:15
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I would not call the suggestion of cheating in this context a crime. A crime has victims. Granted, it is (the suggestion of) immoral behavior, but small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. Personally, if this happens to me, I would not report it, I do not consider it my business to police other peoples morality. But it really is up to the poster, I think. –  Faheem Mitha May 11 at 15:57
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@FaheemMitha: It's not a crime because no law is being broken. However, it is a clear case of academic misconduct—and, depending on the poster's school's code of conduct, not reporting may be tantamount to a violation in and of itself! –  aeismail May 11 at 16:31
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@FaheemMitha There are victims of cheating: anyone (and everyone) who did not cheat and loses a later opportunity to the cheater. Grades are going to be important in getting into grad school or having graduation honors on your diploma to show prospective employers. This is why people cheat! Because the results matter to their future prospects, and they want to steal someone else's chances. –  dmckee May 11 at 16:47
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Just because you can't see the damage here and now doesn't make it unreal. –  dmckee May 11 at 16:48

I generally agree with aeismail - the profound stupidity of putting a request like this in a way that provides evidence is staggering.

Whether or not you should report them for cheating may not be a decision you have to make - I would strongly suggest you check your institution's student handbook or honor code. I've been in more than one university where if you suspect or have evidence of someone cheating, you're obligated to report it.

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wondering if the fb messgaing could be used to turn the tables on OP. Culprit could claim that the deal was struck, but went sour and now the OP is complaining to take revenge. What do you do then ? OR, I came to know OP was into cheating, so I wanted to trap OP and report him to authorities ? Checkmate ? –  Borat Sagdiyev Jun 10 at 6:38
    
@BoratSagdiyev: I think generally speaking the authorities won't look kindly if John claims to have been carrying out a solo sting operation on the questioner. Presumably the questioner isn't cheating, so unless John can whip up a clever frame job at short notice the tables aren't turned. At best John will wriggle out of it. But it's a good caution as to why the questioner shouldn't "play along" with John to any degree at all, since doing so would put the questioner in the position of claiming to be a sting operator, which is uncomfortable even when true. –  Steve Jessop Jun 12 at 11:10

Sorry, I'm old school. You don't lie, cheat or steal. Additionally you don't tolerate anyone who lies, cheats or steals, particularly in an academic environment. I believe all students have a duty, an obligation, to report someone breaking those rules, period. That's part of being a responsible adult. Accepting that poor behavior among your peers erodes the quality of your education. Yes, when the peer group doesn't always support it, it does take a lot of character, strength and personal courage to do the right thing. Oh.. and just imagine for a moment.. what if this person was your best friend? That decision takes lots of courage and is very difficult. Good luck with your dilemma.

Oh, and whom to speak to first? I would start with either of the two teachers involved. I'd hope you'd get the same response from either of them. They have been trained for this situation, and will direct you as to possible next steps. Note: is there a university policy on this with a specific process to follow? If so follow it. If not talk to either teacher.. probably the one who knows your integrity and credibility better.

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You seem to be expressing a lot of 'attitude' in your answer. "welcome to the adult world. Accepting that poor behavior .... speaks volumes about your lack of character ...". That reads like you are insulting me. I'm not sure if you intended to. Perhaps you would like to reword it to use a more neutral tone? You also fail to recommend who to report them too, which was a major part of my question. –  Oxinabox May 12 at 8:35
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You are absolutely right. Apologies. I just had that argument with a 25 year old family member and it totally didn't go well. His peer group believes strongly that you shouldn't report others, mind your own business. I apologize for projecting my experiences onto you. Your first step, sharing the question with this forum has shown your courage to address the issue. I will re-write. And thanks for rekindling my hope in a younger generation! –  zipzit May 12 at 21:22
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Thanks. Your improvements to the answer are appreciated. –  Oxinabox May 13 at 13:23

As a student, I would like to answer this, apparently everyone has a different perspective here, but mainly 2 sides. Students vs Professors :)

He asked you for last year's answers. What is wrong with this? I sometimes ask my friends for previous years' answers as well. This does not mean I am going to copy them. I can go through their work, understand the concepts better and do my homework. The reason is, not every question type is covered in classes or books and guidance might be required to solve them. First you learn how to solve something, then you apply your knowledge to questions. And questions with solutions are the perfect way to master the knowledge. When I use my friends' past homeworks, it really helps me learn the material and all the time I spot their mistakes and prepare my own homework with no mistakes.

Of course, his intentions might be directly copying your homework. In such a case, a proper department should keep old homework solutions and it is the TA's responsiblity to detect them.

So, if someone who you think has intentions to learn from your homework is asking for it, it is very normal to give. But if you think his intention is to directly copy, then you can simply decline his request. You can say you don't have them anymore or you do not wish to share them. No person is guilty unless they commit the wrong and again, you shouldn't worry about them. The university pays graduate students for these matters, it is their job.

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However he didn't just ask for my solutions. He offered to tell me test questions, before they should have been released to me. –  Oxinabox May 12 at 13:18
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@Oxinabox Talking about test questions is not allowed? That is called collaboration and the professors should know better not to ask same questions. Don't care more than your instructors care. –  Kogesho May 12 at 13:22
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That is not collaboration. It may or may not be reasonable to talk about test questions. But collaboration is not the word for that. –  Oxinabox May 12 at 13:45
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This answer raises a good point. I think many of the other answers (including mine) were taking for granted the OP's judgement that the proposed activity would constitute cheating, and giving an answer to the general question "what should I do when someone proposes cheating?" –  Trevor Wilson May 12 at 17:11

Here is my evaluation of the options that you mentioned.

Ignore it, and block him on facebook.

This option is fine, but in my opinion is a bit lazy.

Tell him no, and refer him to the universities plagiarism/cheating policy

This couldn't hurt, but probably he will just ignore it.

Speak to the Professor of Unit Y about it (that we are both studying).

A good option. Another related option that I don't think anyone has mentioned yet is telling the professor about the request but not mentioning John's name. Most professors would (or should) appreciate hearing in general terms about ways that students are cheating in their classes.

Speak to the Professor of Unit X about it.

It is probably better to speak to the professor in charge of you and John at the moment.

Speak to the Head of School (sub-department), who is above both units

Speak to the University Dean who is in charge of enforcing the Academic Misconduct policy. (Will probably mean going though channels)

I don't think it is a good idea to go over the professor's head unless you think that he or she is not taking the matter seriously.

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Let me defend the middle ground here.

First of all, we're hearing only one side of the story here. Although, the case may seem straightforward, I do find the proposition of John strange. If he had simply asked for the solutions from last year's course without offering anything in return, this wouldn't have been an issue at all. It's like asking a girl out but also offering her money to improve your chances.

Also, everyone seems to be taking for granted that his suggestion of cheating necessarily means that he has cheated before or even that he will cheat again. In fact, this person, who is a student, and whose case is relayed to us by someone who admits to disliking him, has already been labeled a serial cheater and is even considered to be very likely to use cheating as his primary means in obtaining a job!

Anyone who has given a little thought to the problem would realize that there is a limit to cheating. Cheaters do not pass all exams with 100%. You can't cheat your way through answering interview questions unless you actually understand what you're being asked.

One of the suggestions given here, which I think is the most appropriate, was to ask the instructors in general terms about the exact form of cheating and its consequences. Then you will be better positioned to decide whether or not to report someone directly.

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I finished a good university which helped me find a wonderful job. Cheating in the university is not the best thing to be done, but sometimes people have to do it in order to win - if you don't understand me I doubt you understand life - watch Arnold Schwarzenegger six rules of success. And I would like to tell you that reporting your colleague is very stupid in my opinion - why you need to do such a bad thing to him? Did he do something bad to you - no... Maybe it's best that you ignore it, but for sure you don't need to report him - you will make him unhappy, and if you ignore it nobody'll be unhappy, right? If you obey all the rules (I'm talking about the rules, not the law) you won't go far in your life... If you don't believe me check the most successful guys in the planet - what do you think, they obeyed all the rules and never cheated on anything??? Think out of the box. I know intelligent guys with great academic experience and at the same time guys who only graduated school and are 100 more successful than the first. Be cool, don't take things so seriously - it's not a robbery or a rape, as I said - take action when somebody's been made unhappy, this is not the case. And now you're about to make someone unhappy, why?

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Hi John. I see that you are new here so I won't vote you down but there are several problems with your answer. Consider how a teacher would mark this answer. First, you say nobody gets hurt but others do get hurt. Those who do not cheat are measured lower than they should be, compared to the one who did cheat. As far as success, how do you define success? If it is by material acquisition, then anything done by the wealthy is acceptable? Your logic is on a slipper slope. –  earthling May 12 at 11:52
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But cheating does make others unhappy, just like cutting in line does. (And does Arnold Schwarzenegger let people cut in front of him in line? I wouldn't try it.) –  Trevor Wilson May 12 at 17:05
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Did he do something bad to you — Yeah, actually, if I followed the rules, he did something bad to me by breaking them. –  JeffE May 12 at 21:50
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John Parcker, You probably want to read those six rules again, IN CONTEXT. (graduationwisdom.com/speeches/0067-schwarzenegger.htm) Rule #2, Break the Rules is not about cheating, its about NOT listening to other's stereotype beliefs of 'it can't be done that way'. –  zipzit May 12 at 22:36

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