I am a PhD student, working as a Homework marking TA in a school where cheating is extremely blatant. The university has an extremely strict policy against cheating. Hundreds of students in math courses alone are reported each year, and suspensions are given to severe/repeat offenders. I have personally reported cheating many times.

Based on this environment, most courses have shifted away from Homework grades, and more toward Quiz/Test grades.

My course is a low-bar mid-level math course, very likely to be the last math course ever taken by the students who enrolled in the course.

The marking distribution of my course is done in a way where the homework mark weight is so absurdly high that cheating on homework would almost guarantee a pass.

I had realized this at the beginning of September, and discussed with (confronted) the instructor. The short summary of the response is that the instructor doesn't care about cheating.

The professor doesn't want to put in the effort to deal with cheaters. The professor thinks the students cheating would not be overly unfair to other students who don't cheat. The professor also does not want me to try to catch cheaters.

I have made clear that cheating on homework almost guarantees a pass, and he/she agrees, and is ok with this.

The homework are all questions from the textbook, and a solution manual is readily available on google.

In this week's homework, I have found more than 100 students who have copied from the solution manual, where at least 50 students copied word for word (if reported, the cheating done can be easily proved by the school.)

I suspect I only caught a portion of all cheaters, as buying solutions at this university is too blatant.

I would like to ask the community of my next steps.

If I were to report the cheating to him/her: Would I anger the professor, since this is against his/her wishes? Would I build a tense relationship with him following this? (There is still a whole semester ahead, and possibly years in the same university.) What would be done in the end? What if he ignores the report, what should my next steps be?

If I were to report to the undergrad chair: Would it be inappropriate to skip reporting to instructor first? Would I also build a tense relationship with the instructor by this move? I am almost positive that there would be action by the undergrad chair on the cheating behavior.

I could also report to both simultaneously. I could also do nothing at all, in which case the cheating would without a doubt continue for the whole term, with the vast majority of students taking part.

I personally disagree with the professor, as I believe that it is unfair for the minority of students who don't cheat. Due to the high homework marks, a mark curve is highly unlikely, so the students who don't cheat are truly getting lower marks because of the cheaters.

The instructor is in the beginning of his/her career, and not retiring. The university is in North America, very large (more than 50,000 undergrad)

Edit3: As I continue to grade, I have found more and more cheaters, in the hundreds, approaching 50% of the class.

Thanks for all the suggestions asking me to "let it go". After much consideration, I can not take such advice.

Thanks for all the suggestions of asking me to "not skip the chain of command". I have since realized this may have severe consequences, and have decided against it.

I have contacted only the instructor with minimal details of the situation. Thanks for all the support and best wishes from the community, I sincerely appreciate it.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – aeismail Oct 7 at 21:57
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    Since you are in charge of grading, and the professor does not care, can you just give a zero to all students who you know are copying? – Erel Segal-Halevi Oct 8 at 6:20
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    Are you sure using a solution manual is actually against any rule? – Stig Hemmer Oct 8 at 7:19
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    If you report them, and they get officially disciplined, you might be dooming your school's football/basketball/hockey/baseball team's chances of making the playoffs, which will seriously annoy the alumni who give money to ensure a winning season. – shoover Oct 8 at 15:39
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    @TemporalWolf Hello. Thanks for the reminder. The cheating isn't a "formula" issue, or a plug and chug issue. It's about copying word for word from the solution manual (in a proof question). – Radiant Dawn Oct 8 at 23:10

19 Answers 19

I realize that the following advice may be very unsatisfying. But you may need to hear it, just to save yourself from grief. I hope it helps.

It may be that you have done all that you can do without harming your own future. You need to judge that, of course, but getting between a new professor and the administration can be uncomfortable at best and career ending at worst.

But you can, of course, vow to be a better actor than this professor when it comes your turn to be in the driver's seat.


There are a lot of possible "reasons" for the situation you are in, none of them especially valid, but still possibly determinant.

Perhaps the department doesn't care a lot about these students or this course, as it doesn't sound like they are in the major.

Perhaps the professor is so tied up in research that he just doesn't care about (or have time for) teaching. This is true, in fact, for some untenured professors.

Perhaps the professor is seen as a future superstar who is immune from all criticism.


If you weren't alone, and had other TAs with similar concerns then you would be in a better position to bring the situation to the attention of higher-ups. If you are friendly with another professor who sees the problem and also objects to it, you could work through him/her.

If your duties included more than grading, such as leading small breakout sections, you could, perhaps, work with your smaller group to get some local change. But, if it is the professor's job to teach them and he refuses to do it effectively then there isn't a lot you can do.

But as a sole TA with only grading responsibilities you don't have a lot of options that won't come back to your own disadvantage.


Certainly you can bring it to the attention of the undergrad coordinator, with evidence. Whether to do it without the knowledge of the prof or not is a (risky) judgement call. But if a solution is to be found, you probably won't be part of creating it. It would be a faculty committee that would have authority and be able to effect change. But you would likely be in the center of any controversy that was generated. As a doctoral student, it feels pretty unsafe to me.

Look to the future, and learn from the past. Do your best but don't put yourself at risk unnecessarily.

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    @RadiantDawn: As I said in my answer, if the professor in question does not have direct authority over you, you can consider reporting anonymously as if you were a student. You ultimately have to choose your ethical stance. If cheating is morally unacceptable to you, you should try your best to fight it while protecting yourself sufficiently (you cannot fight cheating in the future if you are significantly harmed now). So yes be very careful, and weigh the risks against how important academic integrity is to you. – user21820 Oct 8 at 4:53
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    I am very saddened by this and other answers I've read today on other SE sites. They seem to imply that dishonesty is ok if telling the truth can hurt you. If this professor doesn't care about academic dishonesty where does it stop? Are their research papers dishonest too? Are they falsifying their results? There are times when people of good conscience MUST take a stand, even if it can hurt them with one constituency of the population. Perhaps that's naive on my part but if now is not the time, when is? – CramerTV Oct 8 at 18:54
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    @CramerTV. It gave me no joy to have to write it. But I didn't want the OP to walk into a windmill without warning. – Buffy Oct 8 at 18:59
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    -1 The university will have a anonymous whistle-blowing mechanism. Using it is clearly the right thing to do here. – UKMonkey Oct 9 at 18:21
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    @UKMonkey, some do, some don't. Are you confident it would change anything? Are you also confident that confidentiality would be maintained? – Buffy Oct 9 at 18:24

Others have given good answers here. A further possibility is to talk to a more senior colleague who seems sensible, and ask them why is this OK?

Their answer might be ‘what?! this is not OK!’, at which point it becomes their problem; or it might be ‘ah, sit down, Padawan,...' and you are initiated into some academic practicalities (you may or may not be asked to roll up one trouser-leg first). In either case, though, you have raised the issue as an earnest seeker after knowledge, rather than as a complainant. The worst you can be accused of, after that, is naivety.

The answer from @Buffy included a couple of possibilities, of which ‘the department...doesn't care about this course’ sounds most plausible to me. For example a good fraction of ‘statistics for biologists and psychologists’ courses are terrible, and are hated by those studying them, by those teaching them, and by the departments who are strong-armed into providing them – they only exist so that a professional validation exercise can attest that (say) the psychologists in question have seen the word ‘ANOVA’ at least once in their education. I'm not saying this is good (in fact it's Bad), but this explains why a department might not want to invest significant academic, social or moral resources in a course which they already believe is academically meagre, and a battle over which they have possibly already lost. That is, the department is prepared to grit its teeth and try to smile sweetly, and might implicitly expect that you do so too (as a colleague in the same hole). This is the sort of course that one can imagine being dumped (improperly and unfairly) on a junior academic at the beginning of their career, and which they look keenly towards passing on to the next departmental hire – pass the parcel!

...or something like that. This is the sort of broad shape of advice that I'd give to a junior colleague at a different institution (in the UK, to the extent that matters; and at a different institution so it's not my problem either – pass the parcel!), with the proviso that they should follow their nose, and their good sense, in what they do in fact.

If the above analysis matches your situation, then I suggest (with some diffidence) that the most professional thing you can do is to quietly identify the students who actually want to learn something, rather than merely get a pass, and support them in their learning as much as possible – you'd be helping those students beyond the triviality of grading, and be servicing your vocation.

(I should mention that in my department, in my university, we happen not to have any of this type of course; which is good; other departments may not have been so nimble-footed as we have clearly been)

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    I think in the US it's more common to say "pass the buck" albeit "pass the parcel" should be easily understood. – Mari-Lou A Oct 7 at 17:05
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    Hello. Thanks for your answer. My department cares very much about this course, and even more so when it comes to cheating. This is the reason why if I report to the undergrad chair, I'm almost positive there will be serious consequences for the cheaters, including course fail/suspension. Please give more insight if possible. Thank you. – Radiant Dawn Oct 7 at 18:06
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    @RadiantDawn Fair enough, but if you were to follow this up with the instructor or the undergrad chair, my own instinct would still be to take the tack of ‘this seems weird, why is this sane?’, in case there are subtleties or practical trade-offs you're not currently aware of. (I agree that it does sound weird, but what do I know?) – Norman Gray Oct 7 at 18:13
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    @Mari-LouA "Pass the parcel" is a children's party game in which a gift is wrapped in multiple layers of paper and passed from child to child. When the music stops, the child holding the parcel unwraps one layer. The child who unwraps the last layer wins the present. So "pass the parcel" has rather different connotations to "pass the buck". – David Richerby Oct 7 at 22:51
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    It's sad that statistics-for-people-who-absolutely-100%-need-to-know-statistics courses are bad and hated. – David Richerby Oct 7 at 22:56

YOU ARE THE RED PEN OF DEATH, TA. USE YOUR POWERS.

Summary: While a student's solution may be correct, it doesn't necessarily warrant full credit. Give students the benefit of the doubt when you can, but use your judgment when doling out points: If the solution bears too close a resemblance to a known published solution, then do not give full credit. Perhaps give zero credit.

The idea is to train your students into turning in quality work and also to uphold a fair grading distribution. Essentially, tackle the problem internally without raising the issue to administration. You'll abide by the professor's rules, be fair to students, and push back against cheaters. Your grading will send the signal that a) they're caught and b) you expect better. You have a lot of power here.

  • Be consistent in your penalties and apply them on a per problem basis. Be severe for flagrant offenses such as direct copying, as opposed to cheaters who have studied the solution and recast it in their own words. Again, give students the benefit of the doubt.

  • When you do penalize, leave a short note. For example, write "correct but full credit for original work only" or "answer must be in own words". Also consider phrases like "first offense documented; next time zero credit." And, of course, follow up with a zero for repeat offenders who have been warned. The point of a note is not only a signal to the student but to leave an indelible mark on the graded work for anyone else who surveys it.

  • Take a photo of the offending works. Make notes on your grading spreadsheet, too, since after you pass back the work, there is no record left in your hands beside the grade. Keep statistics of the number of direct copies, suspected cheaters, and authentic assignments. Supply the statistics to the professor.

  • Remind the class about your grading policy and about your record taking. Be friendly but firm. Don't threaten; inform.

  • Post the solution from the solution manual after grading. By revealing your hand, you declare your expectations.

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    Two concerns: (1) You are effectively giving partial/no credit to students with correct answers because you suspect misconduct. This seems unfair; students should be convicted of misconduct before being punished. (2) The professor has already told you not to catch cheaters; you are either disobeying the professor or hoping he won't notice, neither of which is likely to end well. – cag51 Oct 7 at 21:23
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    @cag51 The question talks about tens of students handing in answers that are word-for-word identical to the model answers. The chances of a student using those exact forms of words coincidentally is zero. – David Richerby Oct 7 at 23:00
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    @cag51 Oh, I agree! The grader needs to be prudent to minimize false-positives, and so ought to encourage students 100% to argue for credit. And yes, hiding this grading strategy is a bad idea: I'd inform the professor about the grading rubric (often left up to TA's to create). From context, it seems that the professor primarily wants to avoid escalating claims of cheating, as it'd be a bureaucratic nightmare. As TA grader, the job is to grade student's work. And if they don't work, there's no reason to give high marks. – zahbaz Oct 7 at 23:15
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    I think this would violate many US academic honesty policies, which involve tracking if penalized -i.e., violstions happened, and are tracked, or no violation happened, and no penalty incurred. – Scott Seidman Oct 8 at 10:50
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    I'm a tenured professor at a community college, and I grade papers myself, without a TA. The approach described in this answer is the one I use. However, it works for me only because I have enough authority to make it stick, and because I set appropriate policies for the course, such as making homework count for only about 10% of the grade. If 50+% of the grade in this math course is homework, then the students will respond to the policy suggested in the answer by paraphrasing the solutions manual rather than copying it verbatim. There is no solution without the prof's support. – Ben Crowell Oct 8 at 13:54

In light of the professor being against your reporting this matter: You could try reporting the matter to the undergraduate chair using a proxy or anonymously. You are justified in reporting to the undergraduate chair because the professor seems too reluctant on the issue to help you.

I'd advise you to seek alternatives; maybe move to another course or institution but you cure no illness by dying but by treating it. It is best you find a permanent solution without going to such extremes.

All the best.

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    I am okay with the first part of the answer (though it's unclear how anonymous this would really be), but the last suggestion (maybe move to another institution) sounds a bit extreme for issues with a single TA assignment. – Kimball Oct 7 at 15:35
  • Thanks for your answer. Based on this approach, would I give graded homework as evidence to the undergraduate chair? If I do, I would be immediately giving myself away, as there are very few TAs. How would this approach play out if the instructor got wind of my "anonymous" report? – Radiant Dawn Oct 7 at 17:54
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    You can always reach out to the undergrad chair from, say, an anonymous email address, be vague enough that you aren't identifying yourself, but specific enough that they know you are a real TA, possibly even link to this post. You don't need to present any evidence, at least not initially, and see what sort of advice they give you. From there you may have a better idea of what to do next. – Kai Oct 7 at 20:38
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    @RadiantDawn: I still think what I said in my answer is better. Since you said you can find the solution online, you can simply pretend to be a student and tell the undergraduate chair that you feel it is very unfair that other students can just copy it and boost their grades significantly because the homework has a high weightage. If asked for any personal details you should insist on remaining anonymous because you do not wish to get into any trouble for no fault of your own. Please don't follow Kai's suggestion because linking to this post is a serious mistake and will blow your anonymity!! – user21820 Oct 8 at 4:56
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    Linking to the post may not be a good idea, since you have already given personal details about your department and which course, but I still think that it could be worthwhile to anonymously attempt to gain direction. Essentially coming forward as an anonymous whistleblower. Specifically indicate you wish to remain anonymous or that you are concerned about blowback. – Kai Oct 9 at 14:07

Check your university policy. When I worked as a TA, the requirement was:

As a front-line observer, any teaching assistant who has reason to believe that an academic offence has been committed must report it to both the course instructor and the appropriate associate dean.

I am a strong believer in such policies, as simultaneous reporting to two authorities (one of whom, the associate dean, has dealing with academic offences as a substantial part of their job) helps guarantee that the report will be properly followed up. Indeed, reporting to only an instructor is sometimes met with indifference. Most instructors are sensible enough to follow the written policy of their employer when the associate dean (or department chair, etc.) is now effectively looking over their shoulder.

I also learned to avoid bringing up specific cases with the instructor, at all, until after making a report. This way if there's backlash (which I have encountered on occasion), I could fall back on applying policy as written to justify my actions, and appeal to the associate dean in case of real trouble. (This does become more delicate if the instructor is also the thesis advisor of the TA, or in some other position of authority beyond the course instructor-TA relationship.)

Unfortunately it seems like TAs are often overlooked in this sort of policy. If a similar instruction does not appear in your University policy, consider asking whether something could be added (I suggest asking those who handle making the policy directly). Explain why you think it's important and you may find that they're more than happy to discuss it and potentially make prompt changes.

You state that the uni "has an extremely strict policy". So there is someone and some official way to enforce it. (Probably the Undergraduate Chair, but I am not familiar with your system, and you do not state this explicitly)

Now:

Can't you write a report on the matter that the professor just passes on to the one(s) in charge? I guess he just refuses to waste his time on the issue, rather than not caring.

This way you stick to the official channels. If he decides to throw it in the trash... well, so be it.

In no variant would I override the chain of command, (as/if) it exists.

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    Yes, I like this answer. Make it easy for the professor but also give them the responsibility. – Dawn Oct 7 at 15:24
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    Thank you for your post. You seem to be very strong on the point of not overriding the chain of command. I am very interested in hearing more details if possible. After reading your post and many others, I am now very reluctant in overriding the chain of command. – Radiant Dawn Oct 7 at 17:45

My suggestion is to report this as an anonymous student to the undergraduate chair, as if you were taking that class and found out about a whole bunch of people in the class cheating. Provide as much evidence as you can find that could plausibly be found out by a student of that class. Keep reporting it until something gets done. Make sure this is done through email, and CC it to at least one other relevant party in the department. This sets up a black and white paper trail and some pressure of accountability. Do not approach the professor anymore, and pretend that you know nothing about this reporting. Sometimes, you need to protect yourself, because there are far more wolves than sheep who are willing to stand up for you. (You may even have to consider doing nothing if this professor is your direct supervisor.)

Another approach is to be extremely strict in your grading. Then if any cheaters complain, they would have to either go to the professor, whence you hope that he will get annoyed by the cheating compounded by grade-grubbing, or they would have to come to you, in which case you say that you have reviewed but found nothing wrong with your grading, forcing them to go to the professor.

The above approaches are based on your confidence that the undergraduate chair will take proper action against cheating. If the undergraduate chair is lackadaisical about curbing cheating, then there is a much lower likelihood of a good outcome.

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    The problem with the "strict grading" idea is that (assuming the solution manual answer is correct, and at the appropriate level of detail for a student to have produced on his/her own) you can't give it less than full marks except by explicitly accusing the student of cheating. If the prof simply changes your mark to 100%, either because there is no evidence of cheating right in front of his eyes when he sees the student's complaint, or (worse) because he chooses to ignore that evidence anyway, all you have done is to give yourself a reputation as a poor grader. – alephzero Oct 7 at 11:01
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    @alephzero: You are of course right if the solution manual answer is 100% perfect. But I have very often seen a so-called solution manual that is either wrong or flawed or ambiguous or whatever, and if so you can use that as a reason if asked why you did not give full credit. – user21820 Oct 7 at 11:05
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    The masterclass variant: Only assign homework questions where you know the solution manual is incorrect. And then grade strictly. – JeffE Oct 7 at 14:32
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    @JeffE: Hahaha! Interesting one. There are for instance some simply wrong solutions to mathematics problems on Yahoo Answers, and one could give that same problem with the exact same wording so that cheaters would find that thread and give that wrong answer. I probably should add that I'm not being serious about that; I just don't think any homework should be given significant grade weightage, because there is no way to prevent cheating. I think homework students submit should be given full feedback, but not contribute much to grades. Proctored exams are still the best way to ensure fairness. – user21820 Oct 7 at 14:45
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    @RadiantDawn: Don't provide any evidence that only you have access to. That is of course probably unwise in your situation. Just provide the online solution manual and say that all your classmates are copying it, and how unfair it is that they are allowed to cheat and the instructor put such a high weightage on the homework that their cheating will have significant effect on their grades. Doing this also leaves you with all the other options available, whereas most other proposed courses of action will be either unethical or force you to reveal your hand. – user21820 Oct 8 at 5:09

This is a tough situation to be in, and you are to be commended for caring about this and for wanting to do something ethically correct about it.

The remainder of this answer is predicated on the following analysis of the situation. Your professor has knowingly chosen a course of action that will minimize hassles for her, that will maximize her scores on student evaluations, and that will be extremely corrosive to the moral fabric of your school.

There is no real possibility of your having a positive effect on the world here if you restrict your attention to this particular course, i.e., if you view your choices "through a keyhole," looking only at your immediate situation. The professor has 100% of the authority, and you have none. The professor has set policies for this course that encourage dishonesty, and you cannot change those policies.

Your best path forward is to address this collegially with your department, as a concerned member of your campus community. Collegiality is not the same as submissiveness or surrender to unethical behavior. Collegiality simply means that you initiate this discussion using facts and reason, using the philosophy that "the pen is mightier than the sword." Collegiality does not not set any bounds on how hard you can push or on how persistent you can be. It merely sets bounds on what methods you can use: -- no name-calling, no screaming, etc.

I would start by expressing your concerns clearly, in writing, to the professor. Make it clear that you believe that serious ethical concerns are involved. If your professor tries to resolve this with some kind of informal or oral response, or in a nonresponsive way, you don't have to accept that as a response. If you get no meaningful response through these actions, then go ahead and widen the dialog to include other members of your department.

You do not need to be strident in order to get attention. Given your low status on the totem pole as a grad student, any earnest attempt on your part to initiate discussion of this issue, addressed to your department as a whole, will be seen as daring and provocative. Academics love to engage in discussion and debate, so you will start hearing from people who share your concerns, who disagree with you, or who have suggestions.

Good luck!

This is an issue that the professor can't be bothered with: either retirement is soon or they know they are "safe" for another reason.

You could try raising the issue hypothetically with the department head and see how that goes... If they are "best buddies" then BE CAREFUL...

If you can't change this then move on : focus on other courses and ask not to be on this course next time round.

A more challenging course of action is to move to another institution, but that has its own issues...

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    Hello. Thanks for your reply. Sorry, I should be more clear. The instructor is in the beginning of his/her career, and not retiring. – Radiant Dawn Oct 7 at 7:55

I can't possibly imagine how you can have all the evidence of cheating beyond reasonable doubt, without requesting additional information from students, who are not under any obligation to provide any additional information.

The fact that the homework is identical to an answer that can be easily found online is not enough evidence to prove misconduct. Extensively and intensively studying online resources in order to complete homework is part of the normal and acceptable academic conduct. To show misconduct you should prove that the student did not study the resource but copied it without reading it even once. Also, you'd have to prove this without expecting any additional information from the student, as the burden of proof is on you, not on the student.

Perhaps in your opinion, someone who just reads some online resource once and follows the provided online instructions too closely, in order to complete the homework, is cheating. But studying online resources, even superficially, IS NOT CHEATING, unless if, perhaps, there is a very clear rule at class level that the homework must be completed without studying any online resource. I would personally find such a rule to be silly, since generally speaking I would encourage studying of any kind of resources. Based on the information you provided, it is clear that the professor did not set such a rule, but quite the opposite, he is encouraging students to use any materials available to complete their homework.

Even though what the students are doing is not cheating, perhaps you feel that the homework can be completed successfully both by studying thoroughly or superficially, while the grading does not reflect these levels of effort nor the different levels of understanding among students. If so, you are very likely correct in this assessment. Still, it is the professor's job and prerogative, and not yours, to assess what level of understanding is required for a 100% grade. He is setting up a bar to pass his class, so he is doing his job. You just happen to consider that this bar is set too low, which is your problem, that you can fix for yourself, in your class, when you will be a professor.

Still, I can understand the frustration of having different views on academic matters, like the level of understanding required for this class. Again, this is your problem, which you might want to discuss with the professor, with the hope that he will give you some insights about his method which will put your mind at ease. If this discussion does not end satisfactory for you, you should quit and find another position with another professor who aligns better with your views.

I am not a professor, but if I would be in your professor's position and you would report unfounded cheating accusations about my students, even if you would honestly believe they are cheating, while also accusing me of academic misconduct, I would not continue to work with you. Whether this would mean you getting fired or reassigned, it is a matter that the university needs to figure out.

To conclude, first of all, there is no academic misconduct to report, based on what you presented in the question. Secondly, you should try to understand, with an open mind, where the professor is coming from, and you might be pleasantly surprised. If you feel you made enough effort and you do understand where the professor is coming from, but you still disagree with his methods, you should quit.

  • This summarizes my initial thoughts. Oftentimes homework assignments are not treated and graded as stringently as exams. Perhaps the homework assignments as regarded as "practice problems," and the professor might be thinking, "Students will get out of it what they put into it." Therefore, copying from a solution manual is regarded more as "cheating yourself" than cheating the system. This could easily explain the professor's apparent apathy toward the so-called cheating crisis. – J.R. Oct 12 at 11:42

Universities tend to have a chain of command and systems in place to handle these kind of things. As a PhD student and/or TA you are the very bottom of this chain. You have, as you should, reported the issue to somebody higher up than you - in this case your professor - who in turn should have handled the situation very differently than he/she did. Cheating at university is of course not acceptable.

What I would do is contact the Director of studies at your department, and ask what the formal procedures are for handling cheaters. State that you have reasons to believe that cheating has occured and ask what to do. That way you have reported the issue to somebody further up in the organisation. Then you have done your duty and the ball is no longer in your court. That's at least how these kind of issues would have been handled at my former department.

This could lead to the professor in question and you not getting along as well, but at the end of the day it's about the integrity of your department, your subject and your university. So I would bring the cheating to the attention of the Director of studies.

It seems as if the professor is not as concerned with this type of cheating as you are. Perhaps he is lazy. Perhaps he thinks that the homework grade is really a “give me” grade and wants most students to pass the class. You are probably not going to be able to change his mind on this. However, you could suggest a couple of things to make things a bit more fair/make students a bit less likely to cheat:

1) You as grader make an announcement in class stating that you have observed this behavior and it is not acceptable.

2) Perhaps you could also convince the instructor that those answers should be given 0s if you see them again after this announcement.

3) You could offer to create/assign one or two non-book problems each homework and weight those more heavily.

4) Ask to grade the homework on effort rather than/in addition to correctness and give less effort points to copied answers.

Whatever you do, I would try to solve this with the professor rather than going over his head. I would also lean toward solutions that are easy for the professor. Good luck!

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    I would not do (1) unless I had an advance enforcement mechanism in place (such as (2)). Empty threats are incredibly corrosive to one's authority. – Daniel R. Collins Oct 7 at 15:52

Here's an answer that will add slightly more work for you but will make it very easy to fail cheaters. Ask the professor if you can modify the numbers in the HW assignment very slightly. This way people who copy the homework word for word from the manual will get the problems wrong and you can give them a zero for that problem.

In Short...

It comes down to whether you should do what your instructor tells you to do, disobey the instructor and "catch" the cheaters anyway, and/or get the department/institution involved. You probably want to get somebody else involved, but there are a few things to note....

In the meantime....

Inform cheaters that they've been caught, but don't tell them what you'll do about it. You can still give them a perfect score (due to your instructor's command) but still point out that what they're doing is not helpful to themselves or anyone else. You could even type up a brief paragraph linking them to your institution's policy on cheating and staple it to their paper.

Keep track of which students are cheating. If it's feasible, make photocopies (or take pictures with your camera?) of their work and keep them for later. Later, if the instructor changes their mind, you'll have a record of who was cheating and can change their grades. If the department wants to know how rampant the cheating was or is, you'll be able to provide them with data.

Department/Institution's Stance on Cheating

Does your department or institution have a policy about cheating or academic integrity? If so, how does it apply to your situation? You're usually bound to this over your instructor.

If the instructor appears to be violating policy, you should present the instructor with the policy and clearly say that they're violating it, and ask if they still don't want you to catch the cheaters. If your instructor is willfully violating this, then they aren't doing their job! In that case, you should definitely talk to a trusted grad rep, faculty member, or even the department head about this. (See "Protect Yourself", below.)

I find it difficult to imagine that the department would be okay with the new faculty member being too lazy to deal with cheaters. Even if they were, it's equally difficult to imagine your institution being okay with this, as it directly undermines their reputation.

Your Role

It may help to determine what your role as TA is. Are you supposed to merely be an assistant to the professor? If so, then you pretty much have to do what they say -- all the blame is on them, not you. In many institutions, however, the TAs are answerable to the Department -- not the instructor. In that case, you can talk to your supervisor (usually a faculty member in charge of TAs or the department head) about the instructor's questionable practices.

Protect Yourself

If you do discuss your instructor with other grads, faculty members, or the department head, you may you might want to ask for anonymity to protect you from repercussions if the instructor got upset. Because your instructor is new, they may be trying to get tenure, and are being watched by the department. If you were responsible for getting them in trouble, it could have big consequences for them, and they might be upset at you. Realize that they would have very little retaliatory power over you, however, unless they were your advisor.

If all else fails, check whether your institution has something like an ombuds program. You might consider contacting them as soon as possible.

Just let it go. If the professor doesn't care, neither should you. Trying to control the situation will be a nightmare for you.

  • 2
    Someone has to care. If the professor doesn't, and nobody else knows about the problem, then it's up to the OP to at the very least inform someone else. – Ray Oct 9 at 20:21

First: Make sure it is clearly established there really is cheating taking place. Perhaps there was an honest mistake. If there is really cheating, inform the professor that the cheating was verified and happened. Then, if no action is taken, consult your organization's manual or code-of-conduct, and do what it says. Try not to go beyond what the situation calls for however.

Universities have an anonymous whistle-blowing mechanism for exactly this reason. For example

https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/administration-and-support-services/hr/public/procedures/raising-concerns/raisingconcerns.pdf

This will allow you to report what you know, and if nothing else, it's likely the professor will be informed that an investigation will be started. The professor might have a change of attitude just from the investigation; even if they don't find anything.

  • This seems inappropriate and unrealistic to me. Whistle-blowing would be for cases like a professor who embezzles, or for a case of extreme absenteeism. This is a professor acting squarely within their authority, but doing so in a manner that is likely to produce extremely ethically corrosive effects through the incentives it creates in others. – Ben Crowell Oct 10 at 14:15
  • @BenCrowell or, if you read the link, you'll note that you're wrong - as this is a matter that will affect the College, they have a strong desire to not have this hidden internally. – UKMonkey Oct 10 at 14:57

I would report it to the professor. It is not clear to me what exactly was said in the conversation you two had on the topic of cheating, but I suspect that you might have misunderstood something there. In particular, I presume that what the professor meant was that they do not care enough to make great efforts / invest a lot of time to prevent people from cheating. It might still bother them that lots of students could pass their course by buying a book and copying parts of it verbatim.

Keep in mind that it is the professor's responsibility to teach and test the students taking his class in a proper way. If you go behind the professor's back and hand in a report to another member of the faculty that shows that they have failed to do that, the professor might resent you for it. I believe it's important to realize that the professor might feel that the report makes them look bad, so showing it to someone else without showing them first might anger them.

I suggest you show your report to the professor, openly telling them that you believe these students cheated and that you find that troubling, and ask them what to do about it. If they tell you to forward it to the undergraduate chair, fine. If they tell you to let it go, let it go. You have done your part of the job, and the responsibility lies with the professor.

If you do not like their decision, you'll just have to deal with that. It's not worth jeopardizing your future at the department and your relationship with the professor.

  • 2
    Seems like OP has already done this and been told to let it go in no uncertain terms. – cag51 Oct 7 at 21:26
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    @cag51 That's not how I read the question. OP asks if he should report the cheating to the professor or go straight to the undergraduate chair with it, or do both simultaneously. The conversation they had before was originally on the weight of the homework grade and the hypothetical possibility of cheating on it, now that there is concrete evidence of cheating the professor should be informed imho. – user159517 Oct 9 at 19:25
  • Late, but my comment was based on this line: "The professor also does not want me to try to catch cheaters." That said, re-raising the issue with this new information is a fine first step, I just don't image the conversation will go much differently the second time around. – cag51 Oct 15 at 16:29

This answer does not guarantee a solution to the problem of cheating or help bad students to learn what they are doing, but it will allow for a situation where: dishonest students don't gain an unfair advantage; honest students lose nothing; and you are not exposed to any risk of upsetting the professor; and increase the chances that the honest students will complain on their own accord.

Fight fire with fire

When I was a TA I had access to all the students email addresses. So pretend to be a fellow student and proceed to BLIND-carbon-copy ALL the students ALL the correct answers regardless of if they want it or not. The honest students will not lose out because of their honesty. Perhaps a student will complain and solve the problem for you simply because you are being so blatant.

Note there is the risk that your actions could be discovered if only you had access to the emails of other students. So make it sound like your not emailing all the students, but that you "happend" to know the email address from a "friend" and wanted to include her in the cheating ring for the sake of fairness and ask her to forward the emails of any other students she is aware of, just to throw off any investigator (since you OBVIOUSLY couldn't be the one doing it since you already have ALL the email addresses >:) ).

You don't want ALL the students talking to each other and realizing that they were all already on the email list... so only email three of the students who got wrong answers and then only use the emails they inform you of. for each assignment add one student who got wrong answers to the email list, that way people who are socially isolated won't be left out and it will seem like the email list is growing "organically".

Also be certain to email the professor that you don't think it is fair so the professor can't latter place the blame on "your corrupt and fraudulent behavior". Email it from your own personal email account such as gmail so that in the event that you take it to court you can subpoena your email provider to provide evidence that you protested such a policy. DO NOT use your university email as depending on the level of corruption they could simply delete the email and claim you never sent such an email. However, DO use your professors university email as that way the university can quickly verify that the professor did receive a complaint from you.

  • and also start by additionally sending emails to three of the cheating students, since the honest students might not be willing to engage in social networking for the purpose of cheating. – user8578151 Oct 7 at 22:40
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    I think this is terrible advice. You do not want to help the students cheat. Apart from being morally repugnant, it could also endanger your career. – Phil Oct 8 at 6:59
  • @Phil I came up with this answer to ELIMINATE issues of immorality. To create a situation in which good people are punished and bad people are rewarded is what I would call "morally repugnant", at least in this situation. Additionally this answer presents the least amount of risk to OPs career... why do you bring it up? I was in the same situation in college but my job involved tutoring the students on their homework and the professor told me that all that matters is that they understand the material; none of the students called me immoral for offering my assistance, why do you??? – user8578151 Oct 8 at 15:47
  • I agree that the situation that the OP wrote about is not good at all. But what I mainly object to in your proposed solution is that by "pretend to be a fellow student and proceed to BLIND-carbon-copy ALL the students ALL the correct answers regardless of if they want it or not." this would be helping the students cheat. This would just worsen, not lessen, the problem in the long run. Unless I am misunderstanding what it is that you are suggesting? – Phil Oct 9 at 7:33
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    "You were concerned that students were cheating, so you took it upon yourself to assume a false identity and help your students cheat why exactly?" seems like a good candidate for "question you're likely to be asked immediately before being asked to leave and never come back." – Zach Lipton Oct 9 at 10:06

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