Michael Gaynor
November 20, 2012
University and college administrations must stop misleading the public, rubber stamping arbitrary instructors and overreacting to plagiarism scandals
By Michael Gaynor

Plagiarizing is the problem, not owning or reading books, and universities and college have no place telling students what NOT to own or read.

Is it too much too expect university and college administrations to deal fairly and smartly with plagiarism scandals by punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent and to report accurately numbers on which its U.S. News & World Report ranking is based?

At least Harvard publicly acknowledged its cheating scandal last August.

Unfortunately, the cheating scandal at St. Joseph's College in New York in the MBA program's required advanced auditing cause was bungled badly, first by the instructor in not stopping it immediately and then punishing ALL students by making his final exam much harder (and harshly graded) than his midterm exam and finally by the administration in rubber stamping him and quietly revising its academic dishonesty policy to prohibit using and even possessing solutions manuals!

Plagiarizing is the problem, not owning or reading books, and universities and college have no place telling students what NOT to own or read.

This St. Joseph's cheating scandal was readily containable, if not completely avoidable. The course was based on a $40 textbook for which a $160 solutions manual was available to the world online. The instructor told his students that he had the manual and warned them not to cheat, then noticed cheating on a weekly homework assignment. Instead of immediately confronting the suspected cheaters in accordance with official school policy, he opted to tell students that there would not be a problem if the cheating stopped and not to return homework for weeks.

Surprise! The cheating continued. The hapless instructor explained his failure to return homework to students who wanted feedback with lame excuses. He said he drove to work in a jeep and left the homework binders in his other vehicle. Then he said he did income tax returns for relatives instead of grading homework.

Cheaters were so blatant that the instructor taking it personally is understandable. They handed in plagiarized homework that included the typos and mathematical errors in the solutions manual! (The instructor later announced that to the class as he explained how hurt he was.)

Instead of dealing individually, the instructor turned detective and demanded that all his students answer questions, even those whose work was not plagiarized. Then he increased the degree of difficulty of the course on the final exam. The result was that the average grade was a full grade point lower than the average grade on the midterm exam, in part because the instructor did not allow partial credit for partially correct essay questions.

To date, the troubled instructor has not taught another course, but the administration has upheld in the name of discretion the instructor's apparent arbitrariness and patent punitiveness toward the students whose only "crime" was being in the same class with plagiarists.

In addition, the administration has not publicized the scandal or apparently done anything to make prospective employers aware that a significant percentage (but not a majority) of the students who took advanced auditing last spring plagiarized.

After the Enron scandal, one would exhibit that the need to protect the public from dishonest accounting students would be apparent to everyone.

Meanwhile, George Washington University was just punished by U.S. News & World Report because the university's administration had overstated — for more than 10 years — the percentage of its students who had been in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

Associated Press (www.washingtonpost.com/politics/george-washington-university-loses-coveted-51st-ranking-by-us-news-after-inflated-data/2012/11/14/2e682e78-2e9c-11e2-b631-2aad9d9c73ac_story.html):

"George Washington University lost its U.S. News & World Report ranking as one of the top national universities because the school revealed it had erroneously reported data on incoming students for more than a decade.

"The private university held the coveted 51st ranking on the 'Best Colleges' listing of the top 200 national universities. But U.S. News said the use of incorrect data in the September publication made the school's rank higher than it would have been."

What's the official story?

"For the 2011 entering class, the university revealed last week that it had inadvertently overstated the number of students listed in the top 10 percent of their high school classes by 20 percentage points. President Steven Knapp told the university community that officials reported 78 percent of students had graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. The correct number was 58 percent.

"The school discovered the erroneous reporting after a reorganization of admissions management. Officials said the admissions office was using a flawed method to determine the class rank of incoming students at a time when fewer high schools are using such class ranks....

"Senior Vice Provost Forrest Maltzman posted an explanation online Nov. 8, saying there was no indication the numbers were skewed intentionally. A university spokeswoman said Wednesday that officials still do not believe there was any malicious effort to distort the data.

"Responsibility for data reporting has since been removed from the admissions office."

Removing that responsibility from the admissions office sure seems like the right decision, but the university's assurance that the misreporting was unintentional is self-serving and hardly reassuring, especially in light of the university's statement that it was "surprised by the decision of U.S. News to remove George Washington's numerical ranking rather than to correct it in light of our disclosure."

What would it have expected if it had acknowledged intentional misreporting for more than a decade?

AP further (and frankly) reported:

"Universities have become increasingly focused on moving up the rankings. Millions of dollars are devoted to managing colleges' images to help 'make rank,"'said Lloyd Thacker, director of the Education Conservancy, a nonprofit group focused on improving the college admissions process.

"...Thacker said...that he's not surprised schools are being caught manipulating numbers under competitive pressure...."

To prevail, the truth must become known.

Administrators are supposed to do the right thing, not to falsify, cover up or uphold arbitrariness.

© Michael Gaynor


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)


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