07 September 2012


As I prepare to become an assistant professor, I've spent some time thinking about cheating and what I'll do if my students do it.

Throughout my whole education, honesty and integrity in my work was emphasized by my parents first and foremost and also by my teachers. During my undergraduate years at Rice University, we had an honor code that both gave us great freedom and important responsibilities. I followed it very seriously, and I believe most people did. Our school was small and so we never felt anonymous, so I think that helped. It allowed us to have closed-book timed take home exams (whenever I say that to a professor at another university, they gasp). Yes that's right-- we had to close our books, open our tests, and time ourselves taking the test for 3 hours without looking at our books again, and then stop when 3 hours were up. And I did it, lots of times. It was so helpful-- I could stop studying exactly when I was ready and take the test exactly at that moment! I could take the test in the library, where it's quiet and I'm sitting in a carol that blocks out distractions. I didn't have to worry about being sleepy at the 1pm class time, or taking it when I didn't feel well, etc. I didn't cheat because I wanted to keep those benefits.

The University of Michigan also has an honor code, though it seems that closed-book timed take home exams are a bit too much to ask. No professor (or other proctor) is allowed in the classroom while an exam is being taken, and the students have to follow other rules of conduct that the teacher lays out regarding collaboration. Of course, UM has more than 40,000 students-- a little bigger than Rice's 2500 undergraduates (4000 total). So I will have to learn the differences when I arrive.

I was prompted to write about this topic because of this excellent essay in the new york times a few days ago. I hope I can instill in my students an appreciation of "the difference between seeming to be successful and actually being successful." The satisfaction that true success gives us is unparalleled.