An individual I know is in an interesting situation and I was just wondering what you guys thought about it.

This individual had an exam conflict and emailed the instructor to arrange an alternate exam time to get rid of this conflict. Meanwhile the rest of the class would be taking the exam for this course at a later time that day.

After the alternate exam was finished, this individual answered questions and provided specific topics regarding the exam by his peers who would be taking that course exam later that day.

Now this individual received an email from the instructor accusing him of leaking information and reported it to the academic misconduct board.

Now I was just wondering if this is truly a form of academic misconduct.

Just a few notes to add:

  • I have fellow peers who have done the exact same thing and not face a single threat of being reported to the academic board.
  • Is it not the instructor's responsibility to prepare a different version of the exam for both the individual and rest of the class?
  • Furthermore, is it not also the university's and/or the instructor's responsibility to highlight the confidentiality of an alternate exam and notify the possible consequences? In all the rules and regulations, there are no clear cut rules for alternate exams or any offences that can take place.
  • Does this just come down to miscommunication and failure to provide reasonable notice?
  • From the rumours going around, the evidence gathered is a screenshot of a facebook conversation, is this even enough evidence?
  • And if so, would it not be a breach of privacy?
  • Another update: The individual did not know that it was going to be the same exam.

Thanks again and I would love to hear your thoughts about this.


As a user pointed out, the second part to this question is how can this individual minimize the damage and not face severe academic misconduct?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. (Comments can't be moved to chat more than once, so future chatter in comments can only be deleted, not moved.) – ff524 Dec 12 '16 at 1:25
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    The probably most important questions at all: Did the instructor explicitly tell him to not tell the others? If no, are there any university guidelines to not talk about an exam or similar? And was the student aware that the exam will be the same? – Mayou36 Dec 13 '16 at 12:28
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    I'm puzzled by the bounty you've just added. This question has over 7k views, 13 answers, and well over a hundred comments were posted on the question and its answers. Why do you think it has not received enough attention? – ff524 Dec 14 '16 at 2:56
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    @ff524 Because the OP has not received the answer they're looking for. :-) – camden_kid Dec 14 '16 at 9:39
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    You seem to want to "loophole" your friend out of trouble, but that's just not something the folks here are going to be able to help you with. I stand by my answer that dwelling on these issues is actively harmful to your friend's interests, but if that's really the approach she wants to take then she should hire a lawyer. – 1006a Dec 15 '16 at 13:41

13 Answers 13


If the facts are as you report them, your "peer" has engaged in academic misconduct.

I have fellow peers who have done the exact same thing and not face a single threat of being reported to the academic board.

Your "fellow peers" didn't get caught.

Is it not the instructor's responsibility to prepare a different version of the exam for both the individual and rest of the class?

No, the instructor is not responsible for preparing a different exam; the professor should be able to rely on the integrity of university students. In any case, a fair separate exam would necessarily cover the same material.

Furthermore, is it not also the university's and/or the instructor's responsibility to highlight the confidentiality of an alternate exam and notify the possible consequences? In all the rules and regulations, there are no clear cut rules for alternate exams or any offences that can take place.

Probably the the professor should have told the student with the advance exam to keep it confidential, but I'll bet if you look in your student handbook, you'll find a statement about illicit knowledge of exam contents.

Does this just come down to miscommunication and failure to provide reasonable notice?

No, it comes down to someone revealing the contents of an exam to students who have not yet taken it.

From the rumours going around, the evidence gathered is a screenshot of a facebook conversation, is this even enough evidence?

See Anonymous Mathematician's answer concerning Facebook: "Why not?"

And if so, would it not be a breach of privacy?

See Anonymous Mathematician's answer concerning Facebook: "Only if the Facebook account was hacked."

The individual did not know that it was going to be the same exam.

Then he couldn't know it wasn't, either.

Your "peer" knew what he was doing was wrong and he did it anyway. Now he must accept the consequences of that action.

The question was updated to ask about how to minimize damage. That will depend heavily on the individual's history of conduct, any circumstances not brought out in the question, the institution's rules of conduct, and how tough the misconduct board is. However, I can tell you how not to minimize the damage: approaching the professor, dean, or misconduct board in a way that is obnoxiously defensive and argumentative. If, for example, the individual says, "Nobody told me, and besides it's the professor's fault for not writing a new exam. A screenshot is not evidence and it was an invasion of my privacy to rat me out!" That will almost certainly lead to the worst possible outcome.

While not a prediction for the case in question, a similar case where I teach, if a first offense, would lead to a penalty grade in the course and a one-semester suspension from classes. Second offense? Dismissed from the university.

Note: It has been pointed out that this answer is generally in the context of higher education in the United States. Given that a professor accused a student of academic misconduct for breaching the integrity of an exam, I expect it applies in the context of OP's question even though the institution is not in the U.S.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ff524 Dec 14 '16 at 2:54
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    As a TA who recently wrote two exams because three students (of ~80) needed to take the exam early, I want to note that writing a second exam is a lot of work. I already used the best questions I could think of for the first exam, and it took a lot of work to come up with questions for the second exam. I also had to make sure the difficulty of the second exam was comparable to the first. Asking your professor to write a second exam to accommodate you is a big favor and I'm not at all surprised this professor passed on what is a huge time sink. (see Anonymous Mathematician's answer) – NeutronStar Dec 14 '16 at 20:50

Is it not the instructor's responsibility to prepare a different version of the exam for both the individual and rest of the class?

No, it's not a general rule that alternate exams must be different. Preparing a different version is tricky, since it's impossible to make it exactly comparable with the original exam, and students may be unhappy if they perceive the alternate exam as being easier or harder. If most students are trustworthy, then trusting them to keep the exam secret may be preferable to writing two versions. (Whether most students are trustworthy is a judgment call, which may depend on the circumstances.)

Furthermore, is it not also the university's and/or the instructor's responsibility to highlight the confidentiality of an alternate exam and notify the possible consequences?

Yes, the instructor should have explicitly asked the student to keep the exam confidential. It's not wise to leave these things unspoken. On the other hand, the student who took the alternate exam should have asked the instructor for clarification before answering questions about the exam. This is not an innocent interaction: even if everyone involved genuinely believed that the exams would be different, the other students were still trying to learn information that would not be generally available to the class (namely, getting a sample exam written by the instructor). And I'd bet that the other students were hoping it would be the same exam.

From the rumours going around, the evidence gathered is a screenshot of a facebook conversation, is this even enough evidence?

Sure, why not? I'd be a little skeptical if an anonymous source e-mailed a screenshot out of the blue, since it could have been forged or altered, but it seems like fine evidence if a believable source is willing to vouch for it. There's no rule that says sanctions for academic misconduct require absolute proof, and indeed absolutely proof is almost never available.

And if so, would it not be a breach of privacy?

Not unless someone hacked Facebook to get it.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ff524 Dec 14 '16 at 2:53

While I agree with most of the answers, I'd like to offer an alternative perspective.

At my university, there used to be a rule that students were allowed to take the exam home after they were finished. Students had databases online where you could find the exams of past years for every course, which would be a great resource for practice. Of course it also allowed you to reduce the amount you studied to the absolute minimum, so it's a mixed bag. Most teachers accepted the rule happily, and published the exams from previous years themselves on the course website.

Thus, the culture in everybody's mind was very clear: once an exam is done, it's public knowledge. This was not only accepted by the faculty, it was promoted. I would say that in such a culture, if the student made the assumption that the exams were different, they would not be acting dishonestly if they provided information about the exam to other students. Additionally, in such a culture, the teacher would be partially at fault for not mentioning that the exam was the same. An understandable oversight, but an oversight nonetheless.

Your institution may not share this policy, but it does highlight the importance of the culture at the faculty.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ff524 Dec 14 '16 at 2:53

Other people have already made the most important points, but I want to respond specifically to this.

Is it not the instructor's responsibility to prepare a different version of the exam for both the individual and rest of the class?

This isn't relevant, because even if the instructor did prepare an alternate version of the exam, what your peer did would probably damage the integrity of the exam. Alternate exams usually make the same choices as the main version about what subset of the material to focus on; for instance (in my subject, math, where I'm most familiar with this), if the main exam has a question centering on technique A, the alternate version probably also has a question focusing on technique A, even if the exact question is different (say, the numbers are changed). (There are good reasons for this: it's very hard to make exams of exactly comparable difficulty while using completely different question.) But a student who heard that technique A was definitely on the exam and technique B wasn't could study differently, and might be able to avoid the mistake of using technique B instead of technique A because they already know what the right choice is.

Having an alternate exam limits the impact of cheating, and prevents the most egregious approach (working out answers in advance), but there's still a need for students to respect the integrity of the exam.

  • This is a very important point. – NeutronStar Dec 14 '16 at 20:53

In all the rules and regulations, there are no clear cut rules for alternate exams or any offences that can take place.

Let's imagine an alternative scenario where the individual in question walks into the department mail room two days before the exam and notices a copy of his/her instructor's exam sitting on the xerox machine. There is no one around, so he/she quickly pulls out his/hers phone and takes some pictures of the first few pages of the exam, which he/she later shares with friends on facebook.

Is this academic misconduct, or is the student going to claim in his/her defense that "in all the rules and regulations, there are no clear cut rules for taking pictures of an exam one finds while innocently going about one's business"?

The answer is that in both this scenario and the one you described it is academic misconduct, since in both cases the student engaged in dishonest behavior. This would be covered by a clause in your university's code of conduct that says "Students must be honest at all times" or something to that effect.

The dishonesty comes from the fact that such behavior is clearly meant to defeat the power of the exam to provide a true evaluation of the students' knowledge of the material of the course. Admittedly, the scenario you describe provides a bit more leeway for the student to claim that he/she did not understand that this was dishonest (especially if the professor was very casual about the alternate exam arrangement and did not stress the need for confidentiality), but personally I would find this to be a weak argument. I guess it would depend on the details of what the professor said and what precisely was said in that facebook conversation.

UPDATE. Here's a clarification of my position taking into account a helpful comment by @Repmat: as a general rule, sharing this type of information in the situation described in the question carries a whiff of dishonesty and my default characterization of it would be that it is (potentially mild) academic misconduct. However, I am leaving some room for doubt and would consider revising this judgment based on further evidence.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ff524 Dec 14 '16 at 2:55

To address the question in your update, which I take to be your primary concern:

how can this individual minimize the damage and not face severe academic misconduct?

Your friend's only viable strategy at any institution where I have worked or been a student (all in the US) is to

  1. Accept responsibility;
  2. Apologize;
  3. Explain how she has learned from this experience and how she will take care in the future not to do it again.

Part of accepting responsibility can be explaining that she didn't realize that this would be a problem, even though she should have.1 This recitation should be as straightforward as possible, should not include any attempt to blame anyone else, and should only be a small part of her total statement(s).

In other words, dwelling on the answers to your first several questions will be VERY BAD for her in a misconduct hearing. Even dwelling on them in conversation with you might hurt her, if it causes her to go into any meetings with an attitude of ill-use. From the school's point of view, it would appear that the facts are not in question, and neither is the infraction. The only question is your friend's state of mind. She needs to be openly, genuinely sorry if she hopes for leniency.

Once she is in the right frame of mind, it can also be helpful to

  1. Enlist a staff or faculty advocate, even if only behind the scenes.

If there is a faculty member or advisor who knows your friend and would be willing to talk her through what is likely to happen and perhaps speak on her behalf, that can be helpful. But again, I can't stress enough that your friend needs to approach any potential advocate without attempting to pass the blame to others (the professor, the rules and regulations, or even the other students).

If, in spite of her best efforts, she is given a very strong penalty, she can appeal the decision. At that point, and only at that point, it may make sense to bring in stronger arguments about unclear expectations and contributory negligence.

1 Your friend's friends wanted to know what was on her test because it would help them on the test, not because it's standard Facebook conversation to ask for details about someone else's random test. When was the last time you asked someone in a class you aren't taking for details of what was covered on their test? If your friend had stopped to think, she would have realized that there was at least a possibility that the information she was sharing would confer an unfair advantage on her friends—that's certainly what they were hoping for.


Regarding the facebook post and the argument of breach of privacy.

  • If the posting were falsified or a forgery, I'd expect your 'friend' to make that argument
  • Since he isn't, I'm assuming that the posting were true

Now in a criminal court, if the evidence of the facebook post were obtained through illegal means such as an illegal wiretap on the part of the police, then you might convince the judge to throw out the evidence under the doctrine of the "fruit of the poisonous tree."

There are two caveats to this, though:

  1. The fruit of a poisonous tree doctrine only applies to criminal courts and acts by state agents. The intent is to ensure that the state only acts within the law in its pursuit of justice. Since this is not a criminal court but a university judicial hearing, your friend doesn't have access to this argument.

  2. Second, even if it were a criminal court hearing, the professor is not a state agent if you are at a private university. And even if you were at a public university, the professor would have had to have been the one to have hacked the facebook account. If the professor were given the information by a confidential informant (C.I.) such as another student, then the poisonous fruit doctrine does not apply.

tldr: I would expect the campus judiciary board to consider the facebook evidence to be admissible.

Note that the above analysis of the exclusionary rule only apply to U.S. courts. The EU has a similar doctrine but I'm not familiar enough with it to comment.

  • That was exactly what I was thinking. I keep thinking about the law and how it would work that situation. However, this isn't a court of law but rather an judicial hearing as you've stated. I guess now the argument comes down to whether the individual was in the wrong to share the questions she had on her exam with her course study group. Not knowing it was the same exam and not explicitly stating the need for confidentiality. – user66204 Dec 11 '16 at 20:39
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    A danish court case decided that what is posted on facebook is public in the sense that if you can see it without circumventing (ie hacking) facebook's access restrictions (friends only etc), you can use the posts against the poster. That does include someone giving you a screenshot of the posts. An employer was in their right to fire an employee for what was written in posts on facebook. – Bent Dec 12 '16 at 10:26
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    I don't think the professor was hacking Facebook accounts to get that screenshot, instead one of the students have shown this conversation to him or provided the screenshot. I fail to see how sharing a Facebook conversation or accepting such a screenshot could be illegal. Something you share on Facebook cannot be private by definition. – Dmitry Grigoryev Dec 12 '16 at 11:26
  • I have had IRBs agree to similar things as well - that if its published on social media with the intent to be public, it's public. – Fomite Dec 14 '16 at 3:01

In addition to the other good answers, I'm going to address a broader issue implicit in your question, which is, to paraphrase, "it's not cheating if you didn't explicitly tell me not to do it". In other words, the statement

Furthermore, is it not also the university's and/or the instructor's responsibility to highlight the confidentiality of an alternate exam and notify the possible consequences? In all the rules and regulations, there are no clear cut rules for alternate exams or any offences that can take place.

is flat out wrong. You haven't told us what school this happened at, so we can only give general answers.

The conduct you describe would be cheating at any institution I've ever been associated with. All these institutions have a Student Handbook which defines the obligations and expectations of students, and includes a definition of what is or isn't cheating. The definitions of my institutions are as follows:

School 1:

Cheating involves the use of unauthorized or unethical assistance to gain an unfair advantage over other students.

School 2:

Cheating: Defined as using or attempting to use unauthorized (a) materials, (b) information, or (c) study aids in any academic exercise.

School 3:

Cheating is any conduct in connection with any examination, paper, competition, or other work that may affect academic credit, a grade, or the award of academic or professional honors at [redacted], done for the purpose of unfairly disadvantaging another student or gaining an unfair advantage, or under circumstances such that a reasonable [redacted] student would know that the conduct was likely to unfairly disadvantage another student or result in an unfair advantage.

You'll notice that all three definitions have very similar but non-specific language, e.g. "unauthorized", "unethical", and "unfair". If we analyze your friend's actions with respect to all three concepts:

  1. The disclosure was unauthorized because the disclosure of the test was not specifically authorized by the instructor. Contrast this to when an instructor or a TA hands out copies of last year's exams as examples for students.

  2. The disclosure was unfair because the disclosure unfairly advantages some students (those who happen to see or hear the disclosure) versus other students (those who didn't).

  3. You can decide for yourself whether or not the disclosure was unethical, but there exist plenty of ethical frameworks that would say that sharing exam details in an unauthorized and unfair manner is unethical.

Furthermore, every competent instructor I've ever met includes a line in their syllabus that states something equivalent to if you have any doubts over whether a specific action constitutes cheating, please talk to the instructors first!. Regardless of whether your friend's instructor has this specific line in their syllabus, they have probably seen it enough times that a reasonable student would know to be cautious.

The bottom line is that students are expected to exercise caution in situations that are potentially cheating or facilitating cheating, or else they automatically suffer the consequences. There is no requirement or expectation (anywhere that I know of) that the instructor has to go out of their way to prohibit certain actions, unless a "reasonable" student or instructor would not realize those actions are cheating.

Sharing test questions with those who have not yet sat for the test is certainly something a reasonable student would be expected not to do. How many tests have you taken in your life where you had a friend tell you all the questions ahead of time?


UPDATE: I streamlined the argumentation and I admit that it is much clearer now. For the old one view the edits.

Is the student guilty of academic misconduct ? Answer: The situation is unclear.

The involved person was not cheating. The person provided the askers with information which helped the askers, not the askee. In fact by giving answers the askee puts herself in a disadvantage, so the only people who can be actually accused of cheating are the askers which are getting more information about the exam.

So what could be the academic misconduct ? In this case it could be a breach of confidentiality if the askee was instructed to hold confidentiality about the exam or it would be obvious that the very same exam is used. According to the question this situation was not given and if we take in context that alternative exams are common, it is not self-evident.

There is another point: Who is responsible for ambigous situations, misunderstandings or possible loopholes ? Common sense is that the person/instituition who wields more power is responsible to prove that a violation occured to prevent arbitrarily applied justice. The student cannot do much if the university makes an error, but on the other side the university can destroy a career.

The university/professor is able to prevent such situations by not offering opportunities for cheating or misrepresentation. In our university exams had two versions which were distributed alternately (to prevent prying) and the professor/supervisor was controlling the exam. If there were conflicts in time, the alternative exam was either presented later and different or, if possible, the exam was placed so that the end of the alternative exam was the begin of the standard exam. If something seems to be off (strange grade distribution), it was not tried to find perpetrators, but rewrite the exam.

There are no conflicts of interest (student between professor and peers), it prevents miscarriage of justice by blaming students for own errors and it prevents discussion if something is allowed / forbidden. Plain and simple.

For all this reasons my opinion on the matter is: The university/professor did not do their job to prevent an unclear situation and should neither blame nor punish the student for that.

Some people voiced the opinion here that the situation is clear enough and should be understandable for the student without further instruction.
I would like to give a counterexample: In this infamous video Prof. Richard Quinn accused students of cheating. As it turns out, he actually used publicly available testbank questions for the exam instead of rolling out his own and he also claimed that they were his own. Without going further in detail, it seems that even professors can have problems what exactly constitutes a violation.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ff524 Dec 14 '16 at 2:54
  • @D.W. I must admit that it is really better now. Hope you see it now in a better light. – Thorsten S. Dec 16 '16 at 18:10

[Note: adding another answer separately from my already existing one to address a different part of the question concerning the reliability of a facebook screenshot as evidence]

From the rumours going around, the evidence gathered is a screenshot of a facebook conversation, is this even enough evidence?

There has been a lot of discussion in the other answers and comments about the possibility of faking Facebook screenshots, which ostensibly calls into question the validity of using the screenshot as evidence. I find this premise entirely laughable, for the following reasons:

  1. A motive for this outlandish forgery is completely missing. Why on earth would a faculty member even consider doing something so extreme as planting fake evidence to frame an innocent student of academic misconduct (but then sabotaging this daring act of forgery by forging only a relatively mild and controversial kind of offense that isn't even perceived as misconduct by some of the participants here)? We are talking about a final exam for a university course, not international espionage. Thus, the a priori likelihood of forgery, unless perhaps it is accompanied by prior evidence that the faculty member in question is some kind of psychopath, seems close to 0 to me.

  2. The discussions in the other answers focus on legalistic arguments (see, e.g., RoboKaren's answer and her interesting, but amusingly irrelevant, discussion of the doctrine of the fruit of the poisonous tree) and seem to revolve around the question of whether the facebook conversation screenshots would be admissible in a court of law in the event of a criminal prosecution. Well, people, I'm afraid you have all watched one too many episodes of Law and Order. An academic misconduct hearing is decidedly not a criminal court of law, and the standard of evidence required to find a student guilty of misconduct is much lower than "beyond reasonable doubt". From my experience serving on my university's Campus Judicial Board and sitting on academic misconduct hearing panels, usually in U.S. universities (but this may depend on the university and jurisdiction) the standard that is applied is that of "preponderance of the evidence", i.e., a more than 50% likelihood of guilt. Given my argument above about the implausibility of forgery playing a role here, this would be an easy standard to meet.

To summarize, in the context of an academic misconduct investigation, the facebook screenshot would be just as good and acceptable a piece of evidence as a video recording of the student talking to their friends. So yes, it is (more than) enough evidence.

  • I do agree as well. While everyone seems to be going on about this from a legal standpoint, they forget to realize that is simply not a court of law. It is a business with it's own rules and regulations and this is simply an internal hearing about what rules and regulations were broken. – user66204 Dec 13 '16 at 16:06

My moral compass is heavily influenced by your peer's intentions. (Edit: I see from your comments that she is female.) Did she act in good faith, or was she aware that she was most likely passing on confidential information? Your question provides factual details but does not state a motive.

I feel that Bob's harsh verdict in a different answer may be justified for an intentional betrayal1, but not for a (perhaps careless, granted) communication in good faith.2 Of course there is a spectrum, depending how much your peer lied to herself because it spared her a conflict.

Whether your peer can convince the authorities that she acted in good faith is actually quite independent of whether she did. Unfortunately, this is true both ways. Circumstantial evidence in her favor could include:

  • She communicated openly without any attempt to conceal it; witnesses corroborate the innocent nature of the conversations.
  • The type of information fits a conversation rather than a targeted betrayal. Simply passing results would indicate cheating; discussing questions academically could be interpreted as a normal conversation in good faith.
  • Other teachers take care to communicate confidentiality of an alternate exam, and/or they provide different tests. Therefore the absence of that could reasonably be understood as an absence of confidentiality.
  • Your peer has had a clean record until then; cheating would not fit a pattern.
  • There is no evidence of an advantage to your peer besides the natural wish we all have to be loved.

A list of incriminating evidence can easily be constructed by inverting the above criteria ;-).

On the practical side I checked out the University of Alberta's documents, see the footnotes for links. My takeaway is that there are no mandatory minimum sentences. Instead it is the Dean's prerogative as the first investigator and decision maker to recommend or not recommend severe sanctions like suspensions. I would — assuming Alberta's rules are typical — recommend to seek advice of others (alumni, ask in the fraternity etc.) who have gone through a disciplinary procedure. I would try to find out how to best present the case and herself to the first decision maker. I don't want to imply that being overly strategic is always advantageous; rather, that being naive and unprepared may be unhelpful. Since the first interaction is possibly with a single person, much depends on that person and whether she can convince him or her of having cheated unintentionally.

1 Even then I find a one-semester suspension from all classes (I understood that correctly, I suppose?) harsh and zealous, let alone an expulsion. Cheating in various ways and grades is fairly ubiquitous, and this is really not the worst case. For example, even if it was intentional it still was not planned and it was not strategic; at worst it was using an opportunity which presented itself, not even for her own benefit. None of us is Jesus. To make an example of the one scapegoat that gets caught seems simply unjust, exactly as the OP perceives it. Make no mistake: there must be consequences. But let her learn something. Let her correct next semester's homework. Let her tutor freshmen; whatever. The purpose of a school, including the tests and the punishments, is to teach and enable, not to reject and make fail.

2 I checked out the University of Alberta's relevant documents (just because it's the first city name which came to mind). The Academic Integrity Undergraduate Handbook makes it very clear that "not knowing is not an excuse": "It is possible, however, to violate academic integrity even if you believed you were being honest. Each year, students who did not intend to deceive are charged under the COSB because they were careless." (From the Introduction) I hope they are charged but not sentenced.

The Code of Student Behaviour appears not to mandate minimal sanctions for specific violations.

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    We have no room for cheaters where I teach. They don't all get caught, and the punishment for offenses less than compromising an exam is correspondingly less harsh. However, a second offense of any nature is very likely to mean dismissal for the very reason that the student did not learn. – Bob Brown Dec 13 '16 at 15:49
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    @BobBrown Being in your school, does that imply you have not cheated twice? Not in your tax declaration? Your household help's taxes? Your wife? Hail! I have found the savior! – Peter A. Schneider Dec 13 '16 at 15:55
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    I've never cheated, not even once, from grade school through the Ph.D. Nor in taxes or any of the other things you've named. That doesn't make me special; the best students do not cheat, and there are a lot of "best" students. It does make me intolerant of those who want the diploma without learning the material. (Teachers in state universities cannot afford household help, so that circumstance doesn't arise.) – Bob Brown Dec 13 '16 at 15:59
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    @PeterA.Schneider See that's the thing, the conversation that took place in the study group was simply to prepare the rest of the class for the exam they were to take. From the conversations I have seen, it was largely in good faith, there was no discussion of answers or how to tackle the questions. But more so what questions the individual got, how hard she found out and just assumptions the study group made to be better prepared on. Knowing her, if she was specifically told not to do something knowing there would be consequences, this situation would have never happened in the first place. – user66204 Dec 13 '16 at 16:02
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    @BobBrown I accept your personal statement and apologize for veering into the personal. I wanted to (perhaps too vehemently) argue against the tendency to judge others harshly from a moral standpoint that often does not sustain scrutiny; few of us are infallible. I also wanted to emphasize the essence and purpose of a school, and the goal of punishment (which is not alleged purity by separation but betterment though, again, learning). Suspension and expulsion seem to run against all of that. – Peter A. Schneider Dec 13 '16 at 16:20

An individual I know is in an interesting situation and I was just wondering what you guys thought about it.

Before addressing this particular incident, let's consider that students are customers who pay a lot of money to buy the necessary tuition to get an education in some particular subject. However, universities do not treat their students as customers, they abuse their monopoly power they have for issuing university degrees. This is how you get into the problems associated with exams in the first place. The term "academic misconduct" should not apply to students unless they have engaged in fraudulent scientific work.

But given how the system works, it was a mistake to give the student the same exam as all the other students. Punishing the student for having talked about the exam (when not very clearly told that he was to keep his mouth shut about the exam) with his fellow students is another mistake. Students should be expected to freely discuss the subject, it's natural if someone has already taken an exam that this will be discussed, not because students are trying to find ways to cheat but simply because students are interested in the subject and want to be as well prepared as they can to take the exam.

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    Your first paragraph doesn't make much sense to me, and in any case seems like a bit of a tangential rant. – user2390246 Dec 12 '16 at 8:56
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    Yes, you correctly say that they pay tuition to get an education. An education, mark you, not a degree. A degree is a kind of currency paid out by the university which should match the students achievements. And, yes, if you give out a currency, you need to implement a monopoly, that's the nature of that. Cheating in exams is a bit like printing fake money. Yes, the university was careless in leaving that door open, as the driver of the security truck who recently left the door open and where the bucket with the gold flakes were stolen. But one is negligence, the other one is intention. – Captain Emacs Dec 12 '16 at 9:27
  • @user2390246 One has to put the problem in the right context, if you are in bad physical shape, prone to get ill any and then you do indeed get ill, leaving this situation out of the discussion and only focusing on the details of the particular pathogen, does not give a good overview of the situation. – Count Iblis Dec 12 '16 at 21:53
  • @CaptainEmacs The OP denies that the student was told about the fact that the exams were the same. – Count Iblis Dec 12 '16 at 21:57
  • @CountIblis Yes, and that's why I said in another comment that the incident is accumulative, not definitive evidence. I didn't want to repeat that other argument here. I here essentially just aimed to respond to your point about paying for tuition. – Captain Emacs Dec 13 '16 at 12:16

Another overzealous professor blaming students for his own carelessness. Students talk about exams. They talk about their courses with other students who may take the same course later. There is no "confidentiality of the exam". If the exam was the same and he didn't want the student to discuss it, he should have made that explicit.

When I was in school, this type of situation did occur, but professors accepted that the later students might have a slight advantage over the early students. It wasn't a big deal. The few hours of advanced knowledge of topics made little difference. It's not like the early students were memorizing questions and relaying them word for word to the later students. I don't know if that happened here, but even if it did, the professor did not make it clear that the tests were the same. Honestly, it would never have even occurred to me that the tests would be the same.

If the professor really wanted to avoid leaks like this he should have prepared himself better.

Anyway, I agree that the student should not blame the professor or be defensive. Just apologize and say you won't do it again. That's the only way to minimize the damage.

The culture in universities now seems to be to try to "catch" students cheating in any way possible. If I was going to school in this environment, I'd never communicate with other students for any reason, on the off-chance something might be considered "cheating".

  • 8
    -1. I agree that students generally talk about their exams with other students (I sure did/do), but only AFTER we've all taken the exam. For one, it's in my interest not to do so with students who haven't taken the exam - "ruins the curve", so to speak. And more importantly, the honor code at my uni defines academic misconduct to include "distributing, in any form (e.g., paper, photo, video, audio recording and so forth), quiz or examination/test questions or other substantive information about such an assignment without the instructor’s permission." I'm guessing other unis are similar. – tonysdg Dec 13 '16 at 3:09
  • I agree, basically students are at university to study and master the subject, exams are a crude way to test if students have mastered the subject to a sufficient degree. So, it's wrong to make too much fuss about this. Exams for advanced subjects sometimes involve just a few presentations on the blackboard, an oral examination or an assignment that will be different for each student. – Count Iblis Dec 13 '16 at 22:50

protected by ff524 Dec 12 '16 at 11:10

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