Campus Reform | Texas A&M students busted in massive cheating scandal blame their school

Texas A&M students busted in massive cheating scandal blame their school

Students at Texas A&M University are facing consequences for allegedly utilizing a homework-help website to access answers to exams.

The school claims to have found “hundreds of examples” of students answering questions before they could have been fully read.

Students in an online finance class at Texas A&M University are facing serious consequences for cheating on an exam with the help of a widely-used homework help website. This comes as college students across the nation wrapped up the fall semester, with the majority of their work for the year having been completed online— a new reality amid the coronavirus pandemic that presented a slew of difficulties, stresses, and gray areas. 

The Texas students in question utilized Chegg.com, a site that allows users to upload problems and receive explanations from experts around the world in a matter of hours for a fee. According to the university, students had access to the completed test questions on the site and thus answered questions on the exam faster than it would have taken to read them. 

Director of the Aggie Honor System Office Timothy Powers sent an email to students in the FINC 409 course warning, “If you engaged in this behavior, I would like to encourage you in the strongest way to reclaim your personal integrity,” according to the Texas Tribune. 

The school’s grading site, Canvas, can measure how long a student spends on each question. Powers said he had “hundreds of examples” of questions being answered before they could have been fully read. Powers also said many students in the course have admitted to consulting the site for help by either submitting a question for solutions or searching for already answered problems. 

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The university gave students until 5 p.m. on Dec. 8 to self-report, according to the Texas Tribune. Otherwise, they could face more serious punishments, including expulsion. 

Students have largely condemned the incident—the Young Conservatives of Texas at Texas A&M told Campus Reform the group is  “deeply saddened” by the cheating.

The group said it is “disheartened at the disregard for the Aggie Honor Code by fellow students, " adding that it hopes "all parties involved take the right course of action and act appropriately." The school’s honor code states: “An Aggie does not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.”

“It is a shame that Aggies would disregard the Aggie Honor Code,” student John Nollete told Campus Reform, “Especially with what the Honor Code means to all Aggies, who place such high importance on their academic honesty and personal integrity.”

Texas A&M did not respond to a request for comment. 

Some students had different reactions, including one anonymous student who wrote a seven-page letter explaining their perspective after being disciplined for the behavior and placing responsibility on the professor. 

The letter explained that quizzes in the course were available for four days and exams for one day—resulting in students taking the assessments at different times. This, the student explained, created a gray area in which one student could take the exam early and upload the questions to Chegg, and other students using the site to study could unknowingly see the answers to the exam they had yet to take.

“With such an open time range for each assessment, this would very easily include times in which other students have already previously taken that assessment and the students responsible for inputting assessment questions into Chegg would have already done so,” the letter reads. “Further, if you ended up using Chegg to see a variety of similar problems during this time, you are almost undoubtedly going to come across quiz/exam questions unknowingly.”

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The anonymous student stated that the punishment received as a result of this class has ruined their 4.0 GPA and prevented him or her from graduating with honors. 

“It is important to note that going forward, students who find themselves in this situation should communicate this to their professor immediately in a sign of good faith so measures can immediately be taken to prevent this from continuing on. Unfortunately, I did not think about this as I underwent these specific circumstances throughout the course,” the letter reads. “While I was not technically inclined to do so, a lack of me doing so makes me appear guilty. I realize the logic in this and this is partly the reason why I chose to cut my losses where I am at.”

Perhaps this all could have been avoided, the anonymous letter argues, if the professor had watched for this activity from the beginning and clarified that it was wrong. 

“Actively monitoring suspicious activity throughout the entirety of the course, and clearly stating what would be deemed academic misconduct from that start would have absolutely prevented this large fiasco from occurring,” the letter alleges.

Junior Blake Martin condemned the cheating but placed part of the blame for the scandal on the administration—which, he alleged, failed to help students during the challenging semester. 

Martin, a student senator at Texas A&M, helped oversee a poll that asked students questions on how they were fairing. The student government attempted to switch to a temporary pass/fail grading system as the results showed students were struggling. 

“The polling helped us bring the case to the provost and say ‘Hey, these students are struggling, we may need to do pass or fail,” Martin told Campus Reform. “But Provost Carol Fierke essentially just shot it down, along with the administration.”

The lack of help from the university, and a lack of resources available due to the majority of classes being online, make this situation “somewhat understandable," he added. 

“This shouldn’t be that shocking,” Martin said. “Either open up the school and give us all the resources that we had, making sure students are able to succeed instead of setting them up to fail—which is what this University did—or give us pass or fail.”

Martin said he does not believe the cheating was acceptable but added if the school had helped students more, there would have been less incentive to cheat. 

“The University is being oftly hypocritical in cracking down this much on students when they didn’t afford them the same opportunities that they usually do,” Martin said.