Academic culture is driving students to cheat

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Academic misconduct is a direct product of academic culture. Only in changing that culture can we address cheating and plagiarism.

Earlier this week, two TAs sounded the alarm on Queen’s professors who treated acts of plagiarism in their classes leniently. While this is wrong, the frequency of academic misconduct this past semester speaks to broader issues in the educational framework as a whole.

Plagiarism is, obviously, a grave offence, and students who engage in it should be penalized as such.

But consequences only go so far. The only way to curb academic misconduct in its entirety is to reconsider the culture driving students to cheat in the first place.

Too often, we tie grades to self-worth. GPAs act as a representation of who you are, allowing both schools and potential employers to pick out individuals they believe to be the most successful. Students are driven to compete for the best academic standing.

Cheating, therefore, can come from a place of desperation or feelings of inadequacy.

When schools place emphasis on grades, genuine learning gets lost in the mix. Rather than absorbing material, students are taught to regurgitate information on a test. Exams themselves unfairly favour students who flourish in high-pressure settings, even though there’s no equivalent to exams in the real world.

One of the aforementioned TAs claimed, “students are buying degrees they aren’t earning.” Yet, universities are and have always been businesses, available to those who can afford them and concerned primarily with profit. Until that ceases to be true, students’ education will never be a priority.

The educational structure is, at its core, flawed.

We need to rethink the way students are taught—especially in a remote environment. Education should be about genuine learning, not simply pushing students to their limits for the sake of good grades.

Professors must be held accountable, too. When professors get away with minimum effort, whether that be disorganized classes or overwhelming coursework, their students suffer. To ensure students are being taught, universities must evaluate those teaching.

Grades can’t be the be-all-end-all of a student’s career. Schools have chained students to a hierarchy that depends on their academic success, yet don’t expect them to push limits to succeed—even if that means cheating.

We can’t keep equating cheating with laziness. We have to start seeing academic misconduct as it often is: a means of survival.

Punishing students who breach academic integrity rules is all well and good, but the only way to truly address cheating is to reform the educational structures pushing students to cheat in the first place.

—Journal Editorial Board

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