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'Troubling' cheating allegations at Stanford

Original post made on Mar 30, 2015

Stanford University officials are investigating allegations of a high number of students engaging in cheating, according to a March 24 letter by Provost John Etchemendy to staff and faculty.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, March 30, 2015, 9:52 AM

Comments (31)

Posted by Teach your children well
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2015 at 11:14 am

So terribly shameful to see these widespread figures, but not surprising at all. Cheating in engineering can lead to faulty design of airplanes and bridges. There is no gray area. Cheating cheats the honest person and may even have real life and death consequences. How many amazing students are edged out of spots in "top" schools because they maintained their honesty and integrity?

I wonder whether it is more widespread in high-stress communities like right here in Palo Alto.

Our grade school kids, who we hold to high standards of honesty and integrity, often report seeing kids cheat and lie to get ahead. Many parents turn a blind eye to dishonesty in their kids, starting in grade school. Either they don't want to believe their child is less than perfect or they don't see the harm in just a board game or playground activity. Kids learn from a young age that it works, even on low stakes situations.

Unless one is still in kindergarten, it is wrong.

Posted by Keep-Your-Eyes-On-Your-Own-Paper
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2015 at 12:28 pm

> "This would mean that over 120 Honor Code cases related to CS 106A assignments
> would have been submitted to the Office of Community Standards (OCS)

This tidbit opens the door to a lot of questions about just how the cheating was accomplished, and detected. Hope Stanford lets us know what they learn as they investigate the allegations.

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 30, 2015 at 12:43 pm

This says a lot about how our college admissions system is failing. Instead of admitting the best and the brightest, Stanford's clearly admitting those who gamed the system in high school and now can't work independently.

I think the fix for repeated violations is simple--name names.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 30, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Web Link
This is a link to a Wikipedia story about the publicized Harvard cheating scandal of a few years ago. What amuses me is all the details! and oh, wow, this and that..instead of a decisive statement that: these students cheated and that's that! NO, let's parse everything, justify, hedge, explain, confuse.
Such things strike the reader of this vaunted institution such as: the title of the course (easy introductory one), the large number of students involved, and the vagueness of the "penalty." One gets the sense that it is very difficult to be dismissed from Stanford or the Ivies. We know they hand-hold Stanford freshmen like precious snowflakes (I was simply astonished to read accounts of banners with students' names on them and cheers as they encounter their frosh dorms, and etc.)
Some of these coddled students think they are special and the ends justify the means. After all, that's what many have told them! Last time I checked, they walk the same earth we do, though. I remain unimpressed.

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 30, 2015 at 1:14 pm


Basically, the schools don't do much about cheating and plagiarism because of a fear of lawsuits. Stanford's in somewhat better position to do something because students do sign an honor code, which spells out what they can and can't do. But, clearly, at this point, dishonesty is the rule of the game. Not good for us overall--corruption is an endemic problem in many countries and hasn't been in the U.S., but it's going that way and we all suffer for it.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 30, 2015 at 1:32 pm

Yeah, I just think many (most?) of us know right from wrong and it shouldn't be a complex matter, scrutinizing exact terms in a student handbook and so on. I feel very strongly that cheating is wrong. But OPar mentions suing, oh, I didn't think of that angle, but with wealthy parents able to guard over legacy kids, that may be a factor in these cases at times.
it bothers me to read elaborate articles, statements, Wikipedia entries and so on with a lot of detail and hedging about college cheating cases, all in order to weasel out of or justify misbehavior. I find it very difficult to believe the much vaunted Harvard students, for example, didn't realize they were cheating (often this aw shucks, gee I had no idea I did an incorrect thing!) is their reaction. Other students are affected, too, as we know, the honest ones.

Posted by Grumpy Old Guy
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Mar 30, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Grumpy Old Guy is a registered user.

I always believed it starts with the parents.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2015 at 2:36 pm

Recently in India, parents helping their children cheat on exams hit the headlines, big time.

If parents egg their kids to cheat, the kids won't necessarily see it as wrong, just a way to get an edge over the competition.

Web Link parents helping the children cheat - CNN

Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Mar 30, 2015 at 2:37 pm

Kudos to "Downtown Resident"! I don't have to enumerate the losses. A downtown should serve the community not with just offices and restaurants and banks. They're fine, but shopping brings in tax revenue and makes downtown and California Ave. interesting places to find gifts, art supplies, stationery, shoes, clothes, cleaners, shoe repair, books, photography supplies, and much more. Offices can be located any place, especially Stanford Research Park and along El Camino. They DO NOT need to be ground floor in what is left of quaint, friendly shopping areas.

Yes, "Downtown Resident" it is alarming. Yes, City Council, please continue to take this seriously.

Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Mar 30, 2015 at 2:38 pm

When my sister and other family members attended Stanford, the honor code was alive and well. Today's parents should give some thought to their own attitudes about cheating and make it clear to their high school and college student children. When asked, many high school students actually did not perceive that what they were doing was "cheating". Amazing times to live in.

Posted by fyi
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:23 pm

FYI, as per the honor code, Stanford professors are not allowed to proctor exams. In fact, neither the professor nor the TAs are even allowed to be in the room when students are taking an exam. Despite that, I have not observed any instance of cheating in 5 years of teaching upper-level classes at Stanford.

Posted by In the know
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 30, 2015 at 4:12 pm

Given that a certain number of students cheat to be admitted to Stanford and they are admitted, we cannot be surprised that they continue cheating once at Stanford.

Posted by Former Teacher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 30, 2015 at 4:32 pm

With the change in demographics in Western schools, both high schools and universities are reporting high levels of cheating never seen before.
This is being reported in the UK, Canada, and Australia.

This is a cultural thing.
I taught for 5 years in Asia 20 years ago, and I was astounded at the level of cheating going on.

Back then, the students were cheating to gain admission to Western universities - not because they were interested in studying any particular subject, but because it was a way of helping their families immigrate to western countries.

My cousin has been teaching in Korea for the past 10 years after receiving his degree in mathematics from Davis. He thought that Korea was the cheating capital of the world, but it is really a widespread problem.

In addition to the story about the parents climbing the school walls to help their kids cheat in India, there was also a story about parents in China rioting against being not being allowed to help their students cheat.
Web Link

There is no honor code.

Stanford should consider revising their policies.

Posted by Teacher's BFF
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2015 at 5:55 pm

My BFF from college taught English in Taiwan during the late eighties and early nineties. She told us that in every single class she taught, at least 50% of the students cheated. She caught most of them, but the shocker was that when she informed the parents, they were furious with their kids for BEING CAUGHT, not for the actual cheating itself.

Apparently, in many overpopulated societies, cheating is considered a valid way to get ahead of the stuff competition, and creative cheating is smiled upon, even rewarded by parents.

Time to think about the fact that all the big universities have large numbers of cheaters as students, and the U.S. does a lot of business with the countries these kids come from. Are we helping to reward dishonesty as a nation?

Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 30, 2015 at 6:52 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Notice that the Honor Code cites "unpermitted collaboration" and "giving or receiving aid ... a reasonable person should have known ... not permitted"

Many years ago, in a university far, far away, I was teaching a large class in introductory computer programming (500 students). Multiple students in the class came to me complaining about cheating: There were groups of students (4-12) gathered around a table working on the assignment constantly tossing questions to each other. I went and observed this myself and there was no attempt to hide what they were doing, even with the professor standing right there. No one was cheating in the traditional sense, because there wasn't a big chunk of work being copied. The "copying" was occurring through small, even trivial, questions, such as a student simply asking the group whether to use a comma or a semicolon in a piece of code. I did a single blind test: I took assignments handed in by several members of the same group and asked the teaching assistants to look for inappropriate similarities. Their assessment: nothing inappropriate. And these were TAs who were detecting instances of copying where attempts had been made to disguise the fact.

The problem: The overly collaborative students were missing the learning experience of figuring it out for themselves and the repetitions needed to remember it. They were cheating themselves.

My assessment: The students' judgments about collaboration that they brought with them from high school told them that this intensity of collaboration was OK, even encouraged.

My remedy?
1. I assured the students that I wasn't grading on a curve: The people not doing their own work weren't being directly punished by the "overly collaborative" doing better than they should have. There was still indirect "punishment": Because it took them longer to do the assignments, they had less time for other things. But that was well outside my powers.

2. Told the students (during lectures) what I regarded as permissible collaboration and *why*. Didn't expect this to have much/any effect.

3. To impress upon them how little they were learning because of excessive collaboration, the proctored written exams had questions that were trivial for those who had done the assignments as intended. The stats from the exams confirmed the intuitions.

I had limited success: The message about changing your assumptions is slow to propagate.

Posted by lulu
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 30, 2015 at 8:31 pm

is anyone surprised? My kids used to complain about the amount of cheating taking place at Los Altos High School most prevalent in AP and Honors classes. It is pretty unfair when you try to teach your kids to be honest. THose that cheated got into some pretty good schools.

Posted by Chance
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 30, 2015 at 9:09 pm

Cheating in college is merely good training for cheating in the business world.

Posted by Carla
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 30, 2015 at 11:58 pm

Carla is a registered user.

A good solution would be to move some testing to oral individual testing. It Italy this is done with your professor, the TA, and an outsider. It is a very transparent method to determine who is learning anything.

Posted by Bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2015 at 12:04 am

Bru is a registered user.

I've always felt that in most cases cheating is the fault of the school, or professors, etc.
Every case of cheating I had ever seen was blatant, and could have been spotted by a
wary professor or TA. Then there are all the things that are not really cheating but
make it more likely that someone is going to go better than someone else, like
having friends with access to the homework, tests or projects - or even those with
enough cash to hire "tutors" to help them through their work.

Just like everything else the stakes have gone up on grades and costs, and it is no
surprise that more people cheat. The stresses they put on people are ridiculous.
When are we going to admit we do school wrong and some real data-driven studies
need to be done to find out the best way to spread information and skills around,
chips fall where they may. What an amazing country the US could be if we would
industrialize teaching and give it the priority that mind-rotting entertainment has

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 31, 2015 at 12:15 am

There is a pretty good book called
"The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead" by David Callahan

The point was made by Thomas Piketty in "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" that small advantages
over time turn into huge disparities and dysfunctions in our economy. The same can be true in our
society as well, for about 30 years now we have had this level of cheating in our schools which puts
the wrong people at the top, and makes the good people lose, and go crazy wondering why when
they do not realize they are being cheated against.

These problems need to be attacked scientifically, seriously and cold-bloodedly. Corruption in
high offices and of any kind of authority is an attack on the whole basis of our society, and we will
fall apart if we do not recognize this and do something about it.

Posted by Class of 96
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 31, 2015 at 9:46 am

I was an undergraduate at Stanford in the mid-1990s and took the course noted in this article during my junior year, about 20 years ago. I was not a Computer Science major, and this was the only CS class that I took. At the time, there were perhaps 150 or 200 people in the class, and most people approached it as a fun challenge. There were all-nighters in the computer lab, and an atmosphere of "we're all in this together", but at no time did I observe cheating.

I don't doubt that many students are cheating now - I trust what the instructors are observing. I think it's pretty sad, and perhaps a reflection of the fact that a lot of people see pursuing Computer Science/technology at Stanford as a "road to riches". Just the change in enrollment (655 students in the class this past winter?!?) and the fact that CS is now the most popular major at Stanford says a lot.

Posted by Fooled VC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 31, 2015 at 11:52 am

Many years ago, I was considering an investment in TurnItIn - now the standard tool to check for plagiarism is written papers by high school and college students. I asked a well known History Professor at Stanford what he thought of the idea of the company. He said he was 'frankly offended that I asked, because all students at Stanford sign the Honor Code', and therefore by definition there is no problem. Well, I passed on the investment (a fool I was....). I later got in touch with the CEO of the company many years later, who informed me that their data shows that the more competitive the school, the higher the cheating rate. Local community colleges had at first pass a 15-20% 'hit rate' for plagiarism, whereas more competitive schools like Berkeley and Stanford had more like 35-45% when the tool was initially implemented. Obviously the technology has gotten rid of the most egregious types of plagiarism, but the social implications that the brighter students cheat far more often was one that really shook my sense of right and wrong.

Lost a lot of money overestimating the moral sense of our youth.....

Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 31, 2015 at 12:50 pm

This "collaborate" teaching method starts early in grade school. Since my kids in elementary school, I saw teachers assign "project" to students. Good thing is to make students being a team spirit working together, bad thing is the group students for a project is decided by teacher who often put good and bad student in a project group. The "result" often ends as good student do all the work while bad/lazy student just collect credit from the group project. My kid often complain that he had to do all the work while others playing and knowing nothing of the project. So, this culture brought kids all the way to college and work place, that some just know nothing of a project, but just hanging with a group of hard-working people collecting credit. Often these lazy people who know nothing might be a good talker and even present group result in class or to their boss...very unfair culture created since kids were long as you can talk, no need to do real work.

And, with top ranked college admission largely depend on essay, extracurricular activities, fake intern work, the admission process actually encourage cheating to get in a good school. So top colleges get what they admitted, the cheaters.

Posted by Peter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2015 at 3:01 pm

What's the saying? You're not cheating if you're not trying? Cheating happens at almost every level of education. When I went to Gunn, there was at least one student cheating on every test. Teachers were either too oblivious to notice or didn't care. Of course, our cheating techniques were pretty good too.

Posted by TimH
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 31, 2015 at 4:30 pm

I agree with observations by Former Teacher and others to this story. It is sad but true that the nature of cheating has changed in the past three decades, not unrelated to the proliferation of technological advances. During my time at Stanford, the honor code was well known and not really viewed as something written “long ago”. People in my program took their work seriously and few situations seemed worse than for anyone regarded as a cheater. The issue with “successful” students is clearly something that schools like Stanford need to regard as a real, daily issue and not turn the other cheek. It’s not just reserved to one socioeconomic or regional group, despite rather clear and precise practices from some countries. Once one “group” moves up via subversive methods, the pressure is on for others to do what they can to keep up. I divide my time between the United States and China over several years, and it strongly appears that the concept of “academic cheating” is viewed as a foreign, Western tradition that makes little sense when compared to how some Western businesses and government managers handle their responsibilities. Understanding the issue and implementing modern controls with permanent consequences are the best approach, since morality and customs cannot be effectively legislated nor expected.

Posted by Sol
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 1, 2015 at 2:59 pm

THIS is what happens when kids are so pressured in high school to get into Stanford etc. They cheat in High School then when they are in college they are not up to the task so they cheat again.

It all starts with pressure from the parents.

Stanford must expel these kids or it sends the wrong message.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 1, 2015 at 4:07 pm

No, Sol, they wouldn't dare - see my web link above about a famous relatively recent major cheating scandal at Harvard, and how they hedge and are unclear about what will happen. You won't see decisive action here, either (or meaningful action with penalty, anyway). Too many powerful little snowflakes involved.

Posted by xPA
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2015 at 7:08 pm

Stanford could greatly reduce cheating by harnessing some of the same competitive forces that drive cheating in the first place. Simply employ a strict grading curve centered at a C+, instead of Stanford's current A- standard. I am certain that the sharing of work will decrease radically.

Another upside is that undergraduates will study harder, with less time to spend on useless start-up get rich quick schemes.

Posted by Another Student
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 4, 2015 at 9:55 pm

For those wondering: CS106A logs the highest number of honor code violations because it's an incredibly popular/diverse class (lots of non-CS majors) and the CS department uses an automated tool to detect possible plagarism.

Their system checks all assignment submissions against all previous submissions (ever) as well as code available on the web.

More info:
Web Link

Posted by Former Teacher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 5, 2015 at 3:33 pm

The high level of cheating doesn't surprise me. However, what DOES surprise me is that it has taken Stanford so long to catch on.

In the minds of some students and their families, it is considered a lack of honor to be caught.

Posted by Former Teacher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 31, 2015 at 12:52 am

Cheating is widespread in Asian and Indian countries. It is also a big business and a big part of their local economies. Fake universities (immigration processing centers) charge huge fees for credentials, hiring test takers for college board exams, and writing essays. This has been going on for at least 20 years. These former cheaters have entered our universities and workforce, and many now have children. Parents support cheating and view it as necessary to get ahead of others.

The Atlantic just posted an article which discusses the business of enabling cheaters. They refer to it as a "cottage industry" in the article, and focus on China. It is not only China, but also South East Asian countries, Korea, Taiwan, and India. People will do anything to get to Western countries.

Demand for an overseas education has spawned a cottage industry of businesses in China that help students prepare their applications. The industry is poorly regulated and fraud is rampant. According to Zinch China, an education consulting company, 90 percent of Chinese applicants submit fake recommendations, 70 percent have other people write their essays, 50 percent have forged high school transcripts, and 10 percent list academic awards and other achievements they did not receive. As a result, many students arrive in the U.S. and find that their English isn’t good enough to follow lectures or write papers.

Since most of the graduate students in science and engineering are foreign educated, does this mean that our undergraduate students are paying high tuition costs for third world unqualified teaching assistants to lecture them with poor English skills?

Web Link

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