Sad and shocking news from Harvard yesterday: about 125 undergraduate students are under investigation for possibly sharing answers or plagiarizing on a take-home final exam in a single course. (See here for background.)
Harvard President Drew Faust said the following about the disturbing events on the Crimson campus:
“These allegations, if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends.”
The students in question have been called to appear before a review board.
Unfortunately, Harvard is not alone in this struggle. In K-12 education, as we wrote this week in a guest editorial, a fuller picture recently emerged about what has been called “one of the most brazen cheating scandals in the nation.”
According to two investigations, the founder and CEO of a Los Angeles-area charter school network instructed his principals to give copies of upcoming state tests to teachers to study, and perhaps to give them to students to prepare for the test. This cheating conspiracy led to the closure of six schools, with 1,400 students forced to find new schools and teachers losing their jobs.
This is no isolated incident. Testing scandals have recently dogged the Atlanta and Washington, D.C. city school systems, and allegations of improprieties have tainted school systems in Florida, Maryland, Michigan, and Texas.
Meanwhile, large numbers of high school students admit to cheating on tests, plagiarizing work, and copying homework, according to surveys from Rutgers and others.
Of course, these problems are not confined to education.
* Business: In Triple Crown Leadership, we cite data on the trillions lost each year to corporate fraud and the large numbers of workers who have witnessed wrongdoing in the workplace.
* Cycling: Look at the waves of doping and blood transfusion scandals, most recently ensnaring Lance Armstrong.
* Olympics: Look at the admissions of swimmers taking an extra kick off the wall, since “everybody else is doing it” (allegedly). Look at the disqualification of badminton players for purposefully throwing matches in order to draw easier opponents in the round-robin tournament.
The list goes on.
These behaviors are unacceptable. This wave of cheating scandals is a profound threat to us all. We must do better.
Of course, none of us is perfect. We all fall short sometimes. People generally consider themselves ethical, but researchers have shown that people overrate their own ethical fortitude and are surprisingly good at rationalizing unethical behavior.
So what to do about it?
Practical Steps to Take
* First, we must re-dedicate ourselves to the highest standards of ethical behavior. Too many don’t even try, or stop to think about the consequences.
* Second, as we write in Triple Crown Leadership, one smart strategy is to seek help from others as sounding boards and accountability agents. We should make ethical decisions after analysis, reflection, and consultation with confidantes.
* Third, it also helps to stop and ask questions:
“Would this violate any of my core beliefs?”
“Can I live with this on my conscience?”
“How would I feel if this were on the front page of the newspaper?”
“What would my family say about this decision?”
* Fourth, it also helps to analyze the situation from the perspective of all the relevant stakeholders and brainstorm alternative responses—holding out for a good solution and refusing to settle for a weak compromise.
These steps are simple but powerful. We must do better.
1) Do you think this problem is getting better or worse?
2) What steps do you take to stay on a true path?
3) What are the most important things leaders can do to instill a culture of character in their organizations?
Bob and Gregg Vanourek are authors of the new book, Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (McGraw-Hill). Web: http://tclstaging.triplecrownleadership.com/ Twitter: @TripleCrownLead