Thursday, Sept. 20

“Do you see what this guy is doing?”

“Where am I looking?” I asked.

“A little more than halfway up, all the way against the right wall, gray hoodie,” Andrew said. “If he does it again, I want to kick him out.”

I turned to look in the direction to which Andrew had directed me. I quickly spotted the student in question, who, at that moment, was looking directly at the desk of the student to his right. The student in the hoodie quickly went back to his own test, erasing a previous answer and replacing it with a new one.

There was no doubt in my mind as to what was going on. Like the handful of other students we had already spotted during that first test in The Music of The Beatles, we had just caught another cheater. 

Sam, the other extra grader, had already spotted three students in the middle of the room who had compared answers throughout the test’s listening section. Glenn Gass, the professor and my boss, had spotted two students toward the back who had been clearly looking at each other’s tests. I had seen several students on the left side of the room holding their tests straight out in front of them, angling the paper so their neighbors could clearly see the answers.

Glenn and I had already discussed kicking those we had seen out of the lecture hall, but we had decided it would make too much of a scene. We resolved to pull the tests once they had been turned in, keeping those we suspected of cheating separate from the rest of the class. We could deal with them later.

It’s a decision I greatly regret.

By the end of the test, the students in question had no idea we had seen anything, and we had no idea what we were going to do with their exams. When I left the lecture hall that night, we had already separated 18 tests from the remaining 338 tests. Of those 18, 15 were from international exchange students. 

It was a problem we had anticipated, since we had been dealing with similar issues for several years.

It was a problem when I took the class as a freshman, when Glenn would often remark about how empty the room seemed. On tests nights, the third of the room that remained empty the rest of the semester became filled with students, who sat on their phones and laptops until the test was passed out.

It was a problem when I sat in on the class for fun during my sophomore year, when the majority of the students appeared for the first time on test night. All the while, students who audited the class every week complained they had not been able to enroll. 

It continued to be a problem my junior year, when I was hired as a grading assistant, and roughly 80 percent of the international students received A’s on every exam despite being chronically absent from class. 

Glenn and I began meeting with other professors and administrators about ways to deal with the problem. At their suggestion, we began taking daily attendance, gave regular pop quizzes and switched from multiple-choice tests to short answer. 

We first tried this strategy during the spring semester in another of Glenn’s courses, The Music of Bob Dylan, and it had been moderately successful. Attendance had increased, the average grade dropped from an A+ to a B and the international students we had suspected of cheating dropped the class before we even had time to grade at their first tests.

It seemed very harsh to have to make any of these modifications and seemed to signal a real lack of trust of the students, but given the circumstances and the evidence of cheating, we had little choice. We had to play the hand university administration had given us.

In the four years since IU adopted the “Indiana University International Strategic Plan,” the international student population on the Bloomington campus has grown by almost 55 percent. Today, there are more than 6,000 international students currently enrolled at IU-Bloomington, largely as a direct result of the university’s push to have one of the 10 highest international enrollment levels nationwide.

“That shouldn’t be a goal. It should be an outcome of other things we do that we do well,” said Gary Potter.

Potter has taught music theory at the Jacobs School of Music for almost 30 years and currently serves as the school’s director of undergraduate studies.

“I’m not sure that we’re doing well with the students that we’ve got, with bringing them in and educating them about our system, our language and our expectations,” Potter said. “If we’re not gonna do that, we shouldn’t be bringing them in. It’s a bait and switch.”

In his unique role as both a professor and an administrator, Potter sees this issue through a lens not available to many. Though he has not seen any academic integrity violations from international students in his classes, he has heard from plenty of other professors who have dealt with a disproportionate amount of academic integrity violations from international students. 

Having heard arguments on both sides, he is worried that the university administration has become too focused on admitting international students to solve the University’s fiscal difficulties. The pitfalls from rapid integration are invisible to the administrations, and it will be the teachers who have to reconcile these widely different educational cultures to make sure these students receive the education they are paying so much for.

“Diversity is a wonderful thing, and we wanted to have diversity,” says Potter, “But what we’re getting is negative diversity.”

The issue is in no way exclusive to international students. The last four years have seen a steady increase in reports of academic integrity violations campus wide, with the 2011-12 school year showing a record high for the last 10 years. 

According to Potter, however, a report at the beginning of the semester summarizing these numbers had indicated that the largest percentage of new cases came from international students.

“It used to be that students from Asia were the best students in terms of their ability, their preparation,” explained Professor Peter Olson, who teaches economics, “Now, there’s a much wider distribution, and a lot of the worst students now are from Asia.” 

His feeling is that the University now accepts students who are not as well prepared anymore. In an effort increase tuition revenue, the administration isn’t vetting the students who pay top dollar to attend the University.

Tuesday, Oct. 2

The last grade was entered into2 the Oncourse grad-book at 11:47 p.m. Tuesday. In the week and a half it had taken to get all 356 tests graded, we had found two more extremely suspicious tests, both from exchange students, bringing the total up to 20.

Next to the 20 zeros I had entered into the gradebook, I entered the following comment:

“Our test proctors viewed you cheating during the test. As such, you have received a 0.”

It was not the most carefully worded statement, I admit, but it clearly got the point across. I clicked submit, closed my laptop and rolled into bed. I needed sleep, and it had been a long week.

By the time I woke up Wednesday morning, I already had nine emails from the students we had contacted. The rest of the day was a blur of emails. Emails from other students asking to see their tests, emails to and from Glenn about what to do about the angrier emails, forwarded emails from the department of student ethics, explaining that unless we could identify a consistent pattern of cheating on the test itself, it would be difficult to prove any claims of academic misconduct. A handful of identical wrong answers and four people saying they viewed the students in question cheating would not be enough. 

By the time I had to leave my house that day, I had received emails from 11 of the 20 students we suspected of cheating. I left my computer at home that afternoon to give myself a break from the constant torrent. 

By the time I got back to my computer that night, I had still more emails from students we had contacted. When the clock struck midnight, I did a quick tally of how many emails I had received that day regarding the test. There were 34 in my inbox, a new record. Glenn and I consulted as to how best to handle this, and I sent a new message to the 20 students in question, asking that they come talk to us after class tomorrow night.

Professor Olson has taught economics at IU for 23 years now, years which can be found in the organized chaos of his office. Among the piles of tests, homework assignments, overhead-transparencies and various other piece of paper that cover the floor and stack close to the celling, Olson has kept every academic integrity violation he has processed in the last 12 years. 

From fall 2000 through spring 2010, Olson had reported 35 cases of academic misconduct. By the end of fall 2011, just one year later, Olson had already reported another 29 new cases of academic misconduct. Of those 29 cases, 20 involved international students.    

Though incidents have spiked during the last four years, Olson has the impression that the Office of Student Ethics seems to be more concerned about students being reported than the cheating itself. 

“I don’t wanna say they discouraged me, but they,” Olson paused. “I got the impression that they are becoming more of an advocate for the students as opposed to having a disciplinary function for the University.”

The Office of Student Ethics would likely agree with Olson on that point. Jason Casares, the associate dean of students and director of student ethics, said the department’s focus has shifted during the last two years, putting more emphasis on education than punishment.

Students who might have once been put on academic probation or suspended for an academic integrity violation are now required to attend an eight-hour academic integrity seminar. 

The seminars were first introduced as a pilot program last semester but now have been fully adopted by the University. The seminars have shown positive results, and Casares said more than 98 percent of students who attended the seminar have indicated a better understanding of the school’s academic integrity policies.

Even so, there are concerns that these new policies aren’t helping prevent new academic integrity violations. 

“Those courses should be done ahead of time,” Potter argued. “There might be a point in doing that afterward, but it would be so much better if you did it before. It’s not very proactive.”

Potter will be step down from his position as director of undergraduate studies at the end of the semester. He hopes that this discussion will continue but is fearful many professors and administrators will not come forward about the issue.

“Faculty and administrators are sometimes hesitant to speak up to suggest that it might be wise to re-think our efforts vis-a-vis international students,” explains Potter. “After all, it’s the president’s initiative and seems to be a top priority, it’s the fiscally smart thing to do and it smacks of parochialism or even racism for one to question the value of increasing international population.”

The problem, as Potter puts it, is that the longer we wait to tackle some of these issues, the more the students themselves are shortchanged.

Thursday, Oct. 4

Fourteen of the 20 students we had emailed sat in the first two rows after class that night waiting for us to finish talking to other students who had asked to see their tests. Some looked angry, some curious. Some looked confused, others scared. One looked visibly shaken.

Once we had finished talking to other students, we sat at the front of the class and explained our position. We gave examples of what we saw. We explained that the tests largely backed up our opinions and how difficult this process had been.

We didn’t want to be there, but it wasn’t completely up to us. Growing frustration with attendance and prompts from the administration to crack down on academic integrity violations had brought us there. Now that we had arrived, however, we felt like we were stranded up a creek without a paddle. cliche, perhaps a better way of putting this feeling?

We invited them up to the front to view their tests. Most denied that they had cheated. “We just studied together” was the most common excuse, even after we showed them page after page of identical answers. Others yelled after seeing the same thing. Some went quiet after we pointed out that their answers matched up with the other test form. Some expressed frustration with the frank quality of my initial message, saying that I should have simply asked them to come see us instead of accusing them of cheating from the start. I couldn't really disagree with them about that part.

Some students stood out from the others. One confessed to everything before we could even tell him what we saw, apologizing profusely and swearing it would never happen again.

Two came up to us while the others were looking at their tests. “We really did just study together,” one said. 

There was no trace of anger or frustration in their voices as they explained their position to us. They were calm and polite, speaking in hushed voices the whole time, and giving us no reason to believe they were being anything but honest. “We’re really not like THOSE Koreans,” said the other. 

It was clear at that moment they completely understood our position. As we had so many problems with international students in the past, we saw that we might have been a little quick to judge some of these students.

In the three days after he first arrived in the United States, Youho “Rho” Cha barely said a word to anyone. He had expected the culture to be different here but was in no way prepared for just how different it was.

He had traveled from Korea to Bloomington with his older sister, a senior studying business at IU. She helped him move into his room in “Middle Earth,” one of four houses owned by Bloomington Cooperative Living, making sure he was settled in before she headed back to her co-op, leaving him on his own in a very new world. 

Rho was not yet enrolled at IU, so he had no student orientation to meet anyone. He had studied English for seven years in Seoul, South Korea, but he didn’t have very much experience with conversation, at least not enough to keep up with native speakers. 

In his first two months in Bloomington, Rho enrolled in IU’s Intensive English Program. For five hours every day, he practiced writing, reading, grammar and conversation skills. 

The program ended at the beginning of November, at which point Rho and his classmates took the Test Of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, exam, the same exam IU now requires of all international students. Rho got 509 points out of a possible 677. 

Along with his high school grades, the score was good enough for him to be accepted into IU, but he’ll be taking classes at Ivy Tech come January. Tuition is cheaper, and all the courses he’ll be taking will transfer to IU next fall. 

He is very excited to begin his studies at the university but admits feeling he has had little cultural preparation other than what his sister could offer for the expectations of such an academic institution.     

In high school in South Korea, Rho and his classmates began their classes at 8 a.m. and often wouldn’t leave for home until at least 10 p.m.. Rho’s days were spent attending Korean, math, English, and science followed by strictly supervised individual studying. 

Returning home to the supervision of his parents, he often studied well into the morning. The grades Korean students earn in high school are all that determine which universities they are accepted to, so anything below straight A’s could make it impossible for students to realize their goals after graduation. 

“Cheating isn’t uncommon,” Rho said. “We know we don’t have to cheat, and many people think that. But actually, if we can, if it is helpful for my grade, and if you can hide my cheating, then it’s OK. That’s what many students think.”

Rho remembers cheating at least once in middle school by glancing at a friend’s exam during a midterm test. He wasn’t caught, but if he had been, he would have received a 0 in that class for the semester and would have had to negotiate an additional punishment with that teacher. 

“Most students still study and work very hard,” he stressed. “Those ones never cheat on tests. But there are  one or two students every test who are caught.”

Rho hasn’t cheated on an exam since.

Thursday, Oct. 4

Later that evening, when I stopped to carry my bike up the set of stairs that perpetually blocked my route home, I noticed my handlebars were rattling. I looked down to see that my hands were visibly shaking. I was exhausted form the stress of these confrontations. I wheeled my bike over to a bench and let it fall to the ground as I sat and caught my breath.

The night had been awful.

This was The Beatles class, for God’s sake; it shouldn’t be so stressful.

This was the band I started seriously listening to when a girl I liked in seventh grade told me it was her favorite group. This was the band I’d listened to so much during my first semester at IU that my roommate eventually begged me to listen to something else. I went to the Beatles for comfort, unconditional acceptance and love. No matter how terrible life became, the Beatles would be there to make me feel like everything would be OK.

I didn't expect any of the students in class to care as much about The Beatles as I did. I just wanted them to care enough that this music made some kind of impression on them. I wanted them to understand the music and why it was important culturally. At the very minimum, I wanted them to come to class and have enough respect for the professor and his staff that this kind of thing would never happen.

Why didn’t this class matter to them?

“What did we accomplish?” I wondered.

We’d managed to make a dozen students and a few administrators mad. We’d subjected ourselves to significant amounts of extra work and strained our nervous systems far beyond anything we had expected.

It was 11:30 p.m. before my hands were steady enough to finish the ride. I got back on my rickety old bike and, straining to build up speed, headed for home.

Tuesday, Oct. 16

By the time the dust settled and we had complied with the student ethics department’s suggestion of  reporting only the ones we could prove on paper, the number of tests we felt we could process had dwindled to seven of the original 20. Three other students would receive 0s but would not be reported for an academic violation. 

We weren’t out to get any of these students, and we didn’t want to put a permanent mark on their record, but we couldn’t let them go unpunished for cheating. The remaining 10, each of whom we had witnessed bending the rules, would receive their grades as if nothing had ever happened. 

The forms were ready, and I had filled out everything except the students’ names and usernames. I logged into Oncourse to gather the last pieces of information only to find that it was too late.

During the time we spent talking with various departments and waiting for students to come speak with us, the class roster had dwindled from 356 students to 342. Every single student we were going to report had dropped the class while we were deliberating. 

We could still have chosen to report them, but what was the point? All it would do now was draw out the process and the stress, and take more time away from focusing on what we were there to do in the first place: to listen, appreciate, and learn from some music by a band that meant more to us than any other.

Had we made the right choice? I’m not sure. 

It seemed right at the time.


Header Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons