It starts with questions: were the students looking for the test, or rummaging for a marker? Was it the professor’s fault for not locking the drawer? Does any blame fall on the witnesses? What about the people who were just sent the test? And if you knew that the midterm was being sent around, would you put yourself at a disadvantage by not looking at it?
Cheating is not so simple; I have been mulling over these questions since the morning when Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff announced that his Basic Jewish Concepts: Prayer midterm had been compromised. The night before, students were milling around classroom 418 in the 245 Lexington Avenue building, when they came across the copies of the very midterm being given to them the next day, in an unlocked drawer. Pictures were sent around that night, and several students were given copies of the test. One anonymous student attests that the test was sent to her, though she is not enrolled in the course. Someone emailed Rabbi Hajioff about the compromised exam, and he threw all the exams in the trash in front of the class on the test day. Instead of the intended midterm, students were given four short answer questions to answer that day. The rest of the grade for that class rests on the final.
The blame can be placed on anyone involved. But at the end of the day, Stern has to be a place that has a reputation of righteousness. As Rabbi Hajioff commented, “Yeshiva University is a religious school. This doesn’t just mean that keeping shabbat, and studying Jewish texts [are] part of the curriculum. A higher standard of ethics and behavior has to be part of who we are; if not us, then who?” In regards to cheating, the right balance means having both responsible policies to make cheating a difficult prospect and an atmosphere of morality to appeal to students.
Consider a lock on a the front door of a house. The lock works because it provides just enough hinderance that most people would avoid putting in the effort to break the lock and rob the house. However, the existence of the lock does not make stealing impossible, it just gives people time to stop and think about the morality of their actions. Both the mechanisms of hinderance and the morality of this institution must be maximized to stop cheating at this school.
Sarah Poborets, Syms ‘19, walked out of Hajioff’s midterm classroom unsurprised after the cancelled midterm, admitting, “It has happened to me in the past. I have been in classes [in which students] have cheated.” Students openly admit to cheating all the time. If nothing else, this incident definitively proved that there are different levels of cheating. Looking over someone’s shoulder for an answer counts as cheating, but is perhaps a lesser form of cheating than taking out a phone during an exam, which is perhaps a lesser form than going into a professor’s private drawer for the midterm. But I have seen all of these things occur at Stern College.
Some perspective: cheating at other colleges has been treated more severely than at Stern. At Ryerson University in 2008, a student created a Facebook group to discuss engineering questions that were meant to be done individually, and was charged with 147 counts of student misconduct. Most people would probably call that “sharing” at Stern. And although administrators have been attempting to combat cheating with full force, better mechanisms need to be implemented. Specifically, students should be more spread out, proctors should pay more attention, and professors should take care to create original questions.
It may start with the questions, but it ends with one undeniable truth: individuals create the community. If you want Stern to be a utopian community of sorts, a miraculous place where people are nice and ethical, you as the individual have to be nice and ethical. By breaking the weak metaphorical lock into a house of cheating, you destroy the illusion of a utopia—even if the illusion is weak. To live in a decent community, you as the individual must be decent.
Reflecting on the situation, Rabbi Hajioff said “Trust is also a weird thing, it can take a while to build, but can be broken in a moment. When I discovered that my midterm exam had been stolen and shared among students, I wasn’t angry, I was upset. The worst part was the trust I thought I had built with all the students had been broken by a few selfish people.” Let Stern College for Women be a “Nowhere But Here” institution in terms of values. Let Stern deserve that title as a place of dignity and righteousness. “Nowhere But Here” should indicate decency, which can only occur if the students too say no to cheating and encourage their friends to say no to cheating. Be the individual who creates the utopian community. There are only so many rules that the administration can implement. At the end of the day, the student body decides whether the school has academic integrity or not. I hope theadministration places a tighter lock on the door of cheating, but I also hope students realize the importance of reputation and values.