I'm relatively close to someone who is currently attending an Ivy League graduate program. He believes he has it all made in life and yet here he is paying one of my friends to do his coding assignments and projects.

It is an online program, so it makes getting away with this even easier. This situation only benefits both of them, but it's just bothering me. I just hate the idea of someone bragging about being in an Ivy League graduate just to pay someone else to do his work. Should I just drop it or report the student?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please read this FAQ before posting another comment. – Massimo Ortolano yesterday
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    Tell his advisor immediately!! – Diesel yesterday
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    Someone who has no problem cheating their way through life will likely have no problem cheating people around them. Do you even want to be relatively close to this person? – Ian Kemp 10 hours ago

What would I do? I would report them both, anonymously.

What is my rationale for this? Mainly because it is not a "victimless crime":

  1. There are plenty of employers who weight the reputation of a university very highly (perhaps too highly) in hiring processes. A more-deserving and capable candidate might not be given an interview or an offer as a result of this person having cheated.

  2. To the extent that any university's reputation is well-deserved, this is founded upon other people's judgements of its integrity. i.e. that the degree means something. If that impression of integrity is eroded by unqualified people receiving degrees, that hurts the employment chances of everyone with a degree from the same school.

I feel these two points are basically just statistical. Given enough incidents of cheating either or both seems to be a likely consequence.

Somewhat more subjective reasons:

  1. Bad outcomes are possible when an unqualified person is granted responsibility. Crashed airplanes? Deadly medical devices? Losing money for their stakeholders? Maybe the odds of great harm are small. And perhaps such a person has no actual interest in taking a job like that. But I don't think this can be totally ignored.

  2. More broadly, what other harm are these people likely to cause in life? Chances are that this is not at all their first case of untrustworthy behavior and won't be their last -- as long as they perceive it to be in their interest to act this way. On the other hand they may be early enough in life that a "shock to the system" from being caught could actually be helpful. Or at least a deterrent.

Why an anonymous report? I think this is pretty obvious, but I would not want to take any personal risk (in any sense) from this. People can be petty, angry, etc., and I see no reason to expose myself as any kind of 'target' of those emotions.

On the other hand you might have to trust the institution to protect your identity, it depends on how you can make a report.

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    A more basic issue with anonymity is whether the friend could guess who reported him. – Kimball 2 days ago
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    @Kimball this is a good point. And the OP has to decide if its worth the risk. Whatever evidence they have of cheating (if any) also might be attributable only to them or a small # of people, even if the basic accusation itself would not. I haven't looked but there might be good questions on here about HOW to go about reporting such a thing – UuDdLrLrSs 2 days ago
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    One small issue is I do not know who else knows. I could possibly be pinpointed quite easily and unfortunately this could cause drama as we are all stuck at our location due to military. I share your point of views and I know that this student will continue to do this in the future. He is the type of person who only show any form of respect to you if he has something to gain from the relationship. – youravgguy 2 days ago
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    @youravgguy Maybe you could have a preliminary communication with your university without naming anyone or even mentioning an academic dept. Share your concerns all around and see if their guidance is helpful. (Don't be pressured by them however). While this is probably a first for you, it presumably is not for them. And/or, a confidential discussion with a faculty member you trust, perhaps your own adviser. – UuDdLrLrSs yesterday
  • @youravgguy in my last comment I meant to say an "anonymous preliminary conversation" – UuDdLrLrSs yesterday

Just my personal view. I think you can do that if it makes you happy, but... it reminds me of an old joke: "I cheated on a train line -- I got a ticket, but didn't ride". Your friend is basically paying for education he doesn't receive. Will it do him any good? If no, he'll just punish himself by paying for nothing; if yes, then something is wrong on a somewhat deeper level of society, I am afraid.

As a teacher, I am trying to identify and punish cheaters, because it's my job, and it keeps our educational environment healthy. But when I think what motivates people to cheat, I cannot find a good answer at my or other students' level of responsibility (okay, it is possible that a certain course is poorly designed, but usually it isn't the case).

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    The motivation is presumably the degree. Even if you don't actually learn the material, having a degree can give you an advantage against other job candidates. I guess that's the societal problem you allude to. – Barmar 2 days ago
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    @Barmar, Yes. However, if this student later passes a job interview, it means either that the employer cares about the degree, not the skill, or that the skill isn't really necessary for the job. In both cases I have to concede that cheating is just an efficient way to save time, unfortunately. – rg_software 2 days ago
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    I've read this answer several times and I feel like it is giving mixed signals. On the one hand cheaters are unhealthy for the educational system... on the other hand it seems to rationalize the behavior as actually harmless (which I do not agree with). – UuDdLrLrSs 2 days ago
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    If no, he’ll just punish himself by paying for nothing”. Well, no, he’ll also punish the future employers who hire him, future subordinates working under an incompetent boss, future honest people competing with him for jobs and social status, etc. This mindset of “you’re only cheating yourself” sounds very philosophical and deep, and may be useful as a simplistic lesson to teach to immature twelve years old, but unfortunately — and I sincerely wish it weren’t so — it’s factually wrong. – Dan Romik 2 days ago
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    I will also add that he is not paying for the program, the government is. I viewed the program last summer and noticed most of it was programming classes. He had no programming experience so I provided several good starting resources to get a better foundation. With classes starting and more than 6 months to prepare, he is now buying his way through the program. – youravgguy 2 days ago

This is a moral question and each person has their own morals. It seems like you have already decided what you want to do and ask for validation but you need to decide that for yourself and live with the consequences.

I suggest to think about whether "it is bothering you" is enough of a reason for you to report someone or if there are other facets to the issue. Is the life or health of someone in danger if the cheater gets the grade but doesn't earn it? Is the cheater in danger of failing the course or is it just laziness? Would the cheater be deported back to a war-torn country if they drop?

However there may be more options to consider than just the two you listed (report or ignore). You could also talk to them.

  • Very true. The government is paying for this expensive program. – youravgguy 2 days ago

Considering you asked this in Academia, and Academia is all about objectivity, integrity, trustworthiness and reputation: report them.

However, considering you used the phrase

it's just bothering me

I would like to give an answer as if you had asked in Interpersonal Skills:

I would talk to the one you consider a friend (or both of them). Tell them how you feel about this topic and make the moral implications clear. Explain to your friend how this is beneficial to them money-wise, but hurting their reputation and their relationship e.g. with you. Ask them to stop. If you already had this discussion or it goes badly, you should probably reconsider the term 'friend' for your relationship. Doing nothing or pretending this is ok will likely hurt your relationship anyways, at least unconsciously. Depending on your relationship with your friend you can also consider informing them about being on the brink to reporting the actual cheater (or both of them) and you may give an ultimatum.

If you are friends, this will likely resolve the issue without further escalation. Even if not, you'll better understand the relationship you have with them, and this will likely make it easier to report them.

However, keep in mind that you cannot report them anonymously afterwards. We cannot estimate the chance of success or their potential level of aggressiveness without knowing them personally.

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    Bear in mind that challenging one's personal projects/views, even among friends, can be dangerous though. Expect backfire, especially if the other person is under the impression you want to shape them into the way you want them to be. – Clockwork yesterday
  • I like this answer. But note that if you tell your friend that you think what they're doing is terrible, and then anonymously report it, they're more likely to guess it was you who made the report. – Ben Millwood 9 mins ago

If the university is willing to give someone a diploma for someone else's work, then it reflects badly on the university. They should design their programs (in particular online programs) to make this harder: for instance, have live interviews with participants and ask them questions about the work that they have supposedly done, and catch those who can't answer.

But I would not say that you have a moral duty to report this. You are not in charge of defending this university's reputation. (No matter the university, actually -- would this be somehow OK if it were a less reputable one?) I guess you could, if you wish, and if you don't fear negative consequences (e.g., your acquaintance figuring out it's you), but I wouldn't blame you for not doing it.

To answer @UuDdLrLrSs's points to argue that this should be reported:

  1. If employers value degrees too highly, and don't test that candidates are able to perform the work that they're in charge of doing, then I'd say it's their responsibility.

  2. If the university's reputation suffers, it's the job of the university to defend it, and people with an interest at stake (e.g., alumni) can pressure the university to do it.

  3. I think it's the same as 1. I could imagine exceptions for some areas, e.g., medicine, when you have jobs with high responsibilities which can legally only be practiced with people having a certain degree (and with legal oversight on which institutions can grant these degrees). Then I would see a clearer moral imperative of defending the value of such a degree.

  4. In general could see a moral imperative of denouncing criminals that do harm, even when you're not the victim. But when the crime is made possible by the victim's negligence (here, the university not making sufficient efforts to catch cheaters), I think the imperative disappears.

To summarize: it's a broken system if a university must rely on bystanders to report cheaters. If they grant degrees with online programs, they should make the necessary efforts to ensure that the person who's getting the degree is the person who's been doing the work.

  • I sort of fell it is everyone's responsibility to stand up for the system (if not improve it) not out of moral reasons but because we all rely on it. I don't disagree about a university potentially being negligent, but I also think societal good behavior pretty much has to be cooperative as well. – UuDdLrLrSs 19 hours ago
  • I understand the point and I even agree to some extent, but I don't care too much about the system I think. If it turns out that someone from famous university X is actually a fraud, I won't shed a tear for the system :) I'll just update my perception of the reputation of university X in the future. – a3nm 10 hours ago

The school isn't going to be able to prove anything and is not going to make any effort to investigate. There will be no consequences for your friend. If you want to report him go ahead but you'll probably be the only one negatively affected by it.

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    If the institution's reputation is on the line, don't you think they could mobilise the resources to find proof? – Peter Mortensen 2 days ago
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    @PeterMortensen : if it was an accusation of plagiarism, it would be trivial to find proof. But in this case, what evidence can be found besides the OP's hearsay? – vsz 2 days ago
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    @PeterMortensen there's kinda a global pandemic going on, people have bigger fish to fry – eps 2 days ago
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    How do you know this? Justify your post. – curiousdannii 2 days ago
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    I think there is a valuable perspective here -- there is a good chance that the university does little/no investigation even if OP does report this. I would suggest editing this answer to add more justification -- why do you think the school is unlikely to investigate? Another part of the question is whether OP has a duty to report this regardless of the school's likely response. Finally, I think you should should use the phrase "unlikely to investigate" rather than "will not investigate." We cannot say for certain what the school will do or will not do; we don't even know what school it is. – cag51 10 hours ago

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