Cheating or not?
As the school year ends and many of you have student papers due, here’s an ethical challenge related to such assignments, put to the New York Times Ethicist last Sunday:
When I was in college, I’d sometimes write a single paper that would satisfy assignments in more than one course. For instance, I once wrote a paper on how “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” expressed satire; I submitted it for assignments in both my poetry course as well as my completely separate satire course. I did not disclose this to either professor. When I share this with people, half call the practice cheating, and the other half call it genius. My niece told me it would certainly be grounds for expulsion at her college. In my mind, I was adding a level of intellectual complexity to my studies. Was this an ethical practice, or was I cheating?
Readers, what do you think?
Here’s my answer:
If you create a paper, essay, or project that will work for several assignments simultaneously, I think that’s fine. On the other hand, if you take something you completed previously, and submit it to a subsequent course, you are avoiding the object of the assignment (which *should* be to learn something), and that’s not acceptable.
As has been said above, the first approach could easily require a deeper understanding of the material/learning objectives in BOTH courses, and so should be permissible. It would be good for the student to let both instructors know – but I also know how inflexible many instructors can be, so I don’t actually blame the student for saying nothing.
If a student hands me something that I discover has been submitted for grading before, I would give them 0 or tell them to do a real one and submit that. They need to know this is not acceptable, but there are FAR too many cases of academics submitting what amounts to the same paper to multiple venues, for us to get all high and mighty about this. It’s great opportunity to talk about some of the fine and blurry lines in academic integrity.