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Monday, April 30, 2007
Cheating Incident Involving 34 Students at Duke Is Business School's
By JEFFREY R. YOUNG
In what officials say is the largest reported cheating incident in
the school's history, Duke University's Fuqua School of Business
found that 34 first-year M.B.A. students cheated on a take-home
test in a required course last month.
Though the test was open book, the professor, whom business-school
officials would not identify, noticed an uncanny level of
similarity in many of the answers. The school's Judicial Board
conducted hearings and found 33 students guilty of inappropriate
collaboration on the test, and one student guilty of lying. The
hearings exonerated four other students.
Nine of the convicted students are facing expulsion, and 15 students
are to be suspended from the school for one year and will get a
failing grade in the course. In other punishments, nine students
will receive a failing grade in the course, and one will receive a
failing grade on the exam. The students are likely to appeal.
A national survey released last year found that more than half of
graduate business students -- 56 percent -- admitted to cheating at
least once in the past academic year, compared with 47 percent of
graduate students in nonbusiness programs (The Chronicle, September
19, 2006). Academic researchers debate why such a pattern exists at
business schools and what effect that might have on workplace
ethics at a time when corporate officials are under pressure to
play more strictly by the rules. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002,
which was passed by Congress after a wave of corporate-accounting
scandals, mandated stricter governance and financial-reporting
rules for public companies.
At Duke's business school, the honor code requires the chairman of
the Judicial Board to release a brief summary of board hearings. In
the letter about this incident, dated Friday, the board's chairman,
Gavan J. Fitzsimons, said that "while the honor code requires that
the Judicial Board members keep the details of the case
confidential, you should note that the Judicial Board considered a
great deal of evidence, including extenuating circumstances."
"I hope this saddening situation serves as a strong reminder of how
much honor means to each and every one of us," wrote Mr.
Fitzsimons, who is a professor of marketing and psychology.
Mike Hemmerich, associate dean for marketing and communications,
said in an interview on Sunday that the incident was "very unusual"
for the school. "In the past, we haven't had this number of
honor-code violations to any extent," he said. "The number of
honor-code violations in any given year is generally in the low
Every classroom at the business school contains a sign with the
preamble from its honor code: "Duke University's Fuqua School of
Business is a community of scholars and learners, committed to the
principles of honesty, trustworthiness, fairness, and respect for
others." Incoming students are also required to take a weeklong
course at the beginning of the academic year that focuses on
leadership and ethical issues.
"Fuqua depends on every member of its community to uphold the code
in both spirit and action," Douglas T. Breeden, dean of the
business school, said in a written statement. "This is why we
require, as a condition for enrollment, that all students
acknowledge their personal acceptance of the code."
Mr. Hemmerich said the school had no specific plans to change its
efforts to encourage academic honesty. "We're an educational
institution, so we learn from experiences good and bad and try to
take lessons from them and incorporate them ... to improve our
methods," he said. "This obviously will be another element in our
refinement process that we have ongoing."
James R. Bailey, a professor of leadership at the George Washington
University School of Business, said in an interview on Sunday that
it is possible that business schools, by the nature of the material
they teach, breed a certain amount of academic dishonesty. Mr.
Bailey is editor of Academy of Management Learning & Education,
which dedicated an issue last September to ethics in business
"Business schools generally have a culture of competition and
self-interest," he said. "In our theory classes, we're teaching
theories of advancing one's self-interest."
"All the formal mechanisms in the world -- honor codes, having
everybody read it during classes, an ethics class -- can't overcome
culture," he said.
Besides, he pointed out, if students are collaborating on a
take-home test, they may be building useful skills -- even if it is
against the rules. ("The professor's asking for it when you give a
take-home exam," he said.)
"They were enterprising, they took initiative, and they worked
together," he said. "Aren't those all the qualities we're trying to
encourage of business school students?"