Today, I was taking a test in my intro to sociology course. It is a difficult enough class when the minimum requirement for an A is 96%. It is also difficult when the professor gets off-topic and does not cover important enough material. I'm taking the class pass/fail, so I'm not terribly worried right now. I have kept up a B+ so far.

We have an online textbook, which allows the reader to use the audio version, which reads the page out loud.

Today, during the test, someone near the back decided to play the audio on one of the chapters on which we were being tested. It played loudly for about two minutes, and the professor (who is not exactly relaxed) stood up and said the obvious about cheating policies. She said that if the cheater did not come forward before she left the classroom, she would penalize everyone's tests. She did not specify how, but just that she would do that.

She held behind everyone in the area from which she heard the audiobook, and let the others go. I was allowed to go, because I was not too close to the back, and also probably because I'm always on time and never on my phone in class.

I don't think she is allowed to penalize the entire class for the reason stated, but if she does, I'm reporting it to the dean of the university. However, our dean is known to not be the most responsive person. My question is: What should I do if the dean does not take the appropriate steps to help us? I may not be really affected by my grade in the class (again, pass/fail is how I'm taking it), but others are. Failing everyone for one person's actions is unacceptable. Please help!

  • 16
    I'm going to presume you're in the US. Every university will have a clearly defined academic grievance policy. It generally is professor, then department head, then dean, then provost/chancellor/president, but you should follow whatever your institution's procedure is and not jump the chain of command prematurely. (It may feel urgent now, but grades can be adjusted after the fact if there's a good reason, so follow the procedures in policy even though they may take weeks) Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 4:25
  • 17
    In addition, under typical university policies, if your grade was lowered because of alleged academic dishonesty, you (and anyone else penalized) will have a right to appeal. You and the professor would present your cases before a panel which is usually composed of some combination of faculty, students, and administrators. This is an appeal you should win because the professor doesn't have any evidence pointing at you specifically. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 4:30
  • 8
    Sounds like a questionable punishment, but there is precedent for academic dishonesty covering not ratting out those who actually commit it. So the professor might argue that the absurdly obvious nature of the violation means several students were actively refusing to identify the culprit, and therefore there is an untold number of violators. Still, I'm doubtful this would be upheld upon appeal. Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 5:42
  • 3
    It may not be that the professor actually carries out the threat. Threatening to punish collectively is often a fairly good method of convincing the guilty party to own up. Clearly in this case it didn't work.
    – Jessica B
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 11:29
  • 1
    If the question hadn't used the word "university," I would have thought this was a description of a dysfunctional inner-city high school in the US. There seems to be a more pervasive problem with the whole learning environment.
    – user1482
    Commented Mar 10, 2016 at 14:27

1 Answer 1


The described event does taint the exams given by everybody in the room. Even if they didn't mean to cheat. Sorry.

What to do in such a case is a hard question. It ranges from doing nothing this time, but e.g. collecting cellphones and such next exam; just punishing the careless cheater (if caught); grade the affected question(s) for less maximal grade (or even not grade them at all, leaving them for a separate evaluation); or even repeat the exam.

  • 4
    I believe the "what to do" was from a student perspective, not an instructor perspective.
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 16:14

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