Cheat in a pass-fail course? And it's an ethics class
December 1, 2006/New York Times
Cheating on an Ethics Test? It’s ‘Topic A’ at Columbia
By KAREN W. ARENSON
Cheating is not unheard of on university campuses. But cheating on an open-book, take-home exam in a pass-fail course seems odd, and all the more so in a course about ethics.
Yet Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism is looking into whether students may have cheated on the final exam in just such a course, “Critical Issues in Journalism.” According to the school’s Web site, the course “explores the social role of journalism and the journalist from legal, historical, ethical, and economic perspectives,” with a focus on ethics.
Nicholas Lemann, dean of the journalism school, said that students had to sign on to a Columbia Web site to gain access to the exam, and that once they did, had 90 minutes to write a couple of essays. But he was unwilling to detail how the cheating might have occurred.
Mr. Lemann said that no student had been formally accused of any violation, but that the issue had become “Topic A” at the school.
The situation was reported yesterday by RadarOnline.com.
The course was taught by Samuel G. Freedman, a professor of journalism at the school who also contributes columns on education and religion to The New York Times. Mr. Freedman confirmed yesterday evening that “there are allegations of cheating.”
“We are looking into them,” he said, adding that he did not want to comment further because of privacy concerns.
Students in the course, which is required of all students in Columbia’s basic journalism master’s program, have been told they must attend a specially scheduled additional session of the course today in connection with the exam. About 200 students took the course this fall.
“We have encountered a serious problem with the final exam, and will not register a passing grade in the course for anyone who does not attend,” David A. Klatell, vice dean at the school, wrote in an e-mail message, which was forwarded to a reporter by a student. Mr. Klatell did not respond to several telephone and e-mail requests for comment.
Mr. Lemann said that he was surprised that students might have been concerned about how they scored on the pass-fail exam, and that exams and grades at the school were rare.
“We are not a very grade-intensive institution,” he said. “Our school is run on a pass-fail basis.”
“Our students are strivers,” he added. “But they are striving to get good clips. It is not like law school, where fine differences in points make all the difference in the world.”