Thursday, June 30, 2005

Online answer keys a no-no 

Some of my colleagues from UVa will not be pleased to find that their economics department has a cheating scandal.
Department officials said that some problem sets from textbooks used in introductory graduate economics courses have answer keys online. At least one student found answers for a course taken by all first-year students, and apparently shared the information with classmates. Though the solutions were apparently available, David Mills, chair of the economics department, said students should have �known it was off-limits,� but that they instead �used it without the professor being aware.�
Virginia has a farily strict honor code, so these students should normally be expelled. But this is highly unusual in the case of grad students, at least at UVa. One of the graduate students notes,
from an economist�s perspective, he considered it a bad tactical move to cheat. �It isn�t worth the risk,� he said. He had never heard of graduate students finding answer keys before, and said he would be shocked if someone cheated on a test, but that �as far as for homework, that doesn�t surprise me at all.� He added that the idea a cheater would share his or her apparent competitive advantage with classmates is also less than stunning. �There�s sort of a communal feel in that everybody�s trying to help each other out a lot.�
I agree that grad school is not nearly as cutthroat as one might think from hearing stories of law or medical schools. And it's also not surprising that the economics department is trying to find some way to deal with the dishonesty short of expulsion. Faculty probably should know if their textbooks have problems answered online, and it's easy to catch who didn't learn the material with an exam or the students' qualifying exams. I suspect one problem to arise will be that the students in this class of UVa economics PhDs will be scrutinized a little more carefully on the job market.

h/t: reader Roger Lewis