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Duke Cheats and So Does Everyone Else

Thirty-four first-year business graduate students at Duke University cheated on a take-home final exam, a judicial board has found, in what officials called the most widespread cheating episode in the business school’s history.

The final was an open-book test in a required course in March, with students told to take the exam on their own. But many students collaborated, in violation of the school’s honor code, according to a ruling last week by the judicial board of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke.

Well I’m shocked now! Students cheated on a take home exam. And business school students at that. Truly, truly shocking. Almost as shocking as the earth revolving around the sun.

Honor code at a business school? Who are we kidding now. The greatest ambition of business school students is to become a CEO, get a few hundred million dollars in stock options and a huge parachute, build themselves an Al Lord style castle and golf course and milk it for all it’s worth. Compared to the ongoing fraud in the corporate world, teaming up on an exam is practically a virtue. After all it shows teamwork and cooperation– something corporate leadership could use more of.

In general, fewer than 10 students a year at the business school are found guilty of cheating, and some years no accusations are brought to the judicial board, said Michael Hemmerich, associate dean for marketing and communications at the business school.

And in those years they sacrifice a goat to the heathen gods of accounting and promise they’ll do better next year.

National surveys have suggested that cheating is widespread among graduate students. In a survey released last September by a Rutgers University professor, 56 percent of business graduate students admitted having cheated, compared with 54 percent in engineering, 48 percent in education and 45 percent in law school.

And the surprise is what exactly? Business today doesn’t even operate under the pretense of an ethical code anymore. Neither does society. Our last two Presidents openly lied in office and only became more popular for it. And these students are battling in a competitive field for their future. Stopping cheating is going to take a lot more than a lecture on ethics. It requires serious changes in social values.

“I would say at many business schools it is a part of the culture,” Dr. McCabe said. “You want to talk rationalizations? I could give you thousands of them: everybody else does it, it’s the teachers’ fault, you have to do it to get ahead.”

The latter one certainly does. Business school, most real schools, are premised on a Darwinian competition that determines if you’ll have a rich successful life or not. These schools themselves represent investments of student loans ranging anywhere from the tens of thousands to over a hundred thousand dollars from lenders tied up with the schools themselves, exchanging kickbacks to loan officers. If these students find themselves unable to get a good job after they graduate, they will be carrying a loan burden with no celling that they can’t escape even with bankruptcy or permanent disability.

You want a motivation to get ahead by any means? There it is. Get ahead or you’ll be paying the vast majority of your paycheck to Sallie Mae for the rest of your life.

Many of the country’s leading business schools, including Duke’s, have been emphasizing honesty and ethical conduct, introducing new courses in business ethics and creating tough honor codes.

Which of course aren’t going to do squat. It’s not a lack of student knowledge, it’s a lack of student ethics. You can’t teach ethics, you can only live it. At a time when political and business leaders don’t live it… why should students? Unless those courses can come up with a comprehensive answer for why students aiming for leadership should ignore how our leaders actually act– they’re a waste of time meant to whitewash the universities themselves.

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