Cheating in class

I recently met a teenager who had spent a week helping out at an orphanage in Cambodia. It all sounded very public-spirited and selfless, until it turned out that the trip was essentially tailor-made for mention in college admission applications, as evidence of eye-catching extracurricular activity, noble commitment to humanity and maturity of character. At least his parents weren’t arranging for him to cheat and plagiarize in exams and essays. (Or maybe they were.)

When I was a kid, we were dumped in a sandpit until age 5 or 6, then sent to a place where nuns with sticks forced us to learn the Three Rs. With well-paid semi-skilled jobs easy to get, only a fairly small minority of high-school graduates went to college; those of us who did simply had to bullshit our way through an interview focused almost entirely on our intended field of study. If you had asked the universities if they wanted diverse, well-rounded, vibrant student bodies, they would probably have looked puzzled and said ‘Not really’. Nowadays, it’s Compete and Succeed Non-stop, starting at age 3 – or die.

Except in Asia, where you’re a failure if tutoring hasn’t begin by age 18 months, and the pressure only gets higher and higher from then on. Not everyone can handle it, so what do they do? Of course, they cheat.

A recent CNN report quotes an American college admissions officer who throws out a quarter of Thai applications for suspected dishonesty. It mentions elite, middle-class families in emerging markets who use consultants and fixers to – essentially – lie candidates’ way into the fancy brand-name institution of their dreams.

A South China Morning Post column today covers the same ground. It mentions 70% of Chinese applicants getting someone else to write their admissions essays. The materials candidates submit to colleges are becoming so unreliable that independent audit-type agencies are stepping in to verify students’ credentials.

And at this moment, who comes along but our old friend Gerald Chow.

Back in 2012, Hong Kong was briefly riveted by a story on How to Spend US$2 million and Still Not Get Your Kids Into Harvard. The scion of the Chow Sang Sang family was suing American educational consultants IvyAdmit for taking a painfully large amount of money but not delivering on the Ivy League admissions promised for his two kids. As part of the evidence, Chow submitted invoices from tutors/fixers, which showed that he himself had also received ‘allegedly improper academic assistance’ when doing a degree of his own. What most raised eyebrows was his openness about paying others to read and write for his assignments on his behalf, which suggested that he saw it as a perfectly normal and acceptable means of study.

(This is where the sandpit helped – no-one to do things for you there.)

The latest news is that Chow is now trying to get this part of the evidence excluded from the lawsuit. The reasons are in a motion (in limine, no less) from a couple of weeks ago. His lawyers argue that the material is irrelevant. If they left it at that, and acted all cool and confident, I could sort of imagine the judge agreeing. But they go further. They claim the evidence presents a danger of jury bias via an impression that Chow received “an advantage not available to other, less affluent, students.” They similarly fret about possible “resentment based on a perception that their children have taken slots in US schools that might have been available to American citizens.”

In short, they seem to be concerned that the ‘allegedly improper academic assistance’ Chow Senior received when doing his own degree could discredit him, and thus damage or detract from the charge that he was cheated by the consultants providing similar assistance to his children (who presumably could also be discredited, but have to live with it). (IvyAdmit, for its part, seems to be trying to smear Chow by smearing itself as a purveyor of degree-cheating services. Hey – there’s two million bucks at stake.)

As well as insisting that the evidence is irrelevant and prejudicial, Chow’s lawyers labour at length to establish that the services of consultants like IvyAdmit are perfectly above-board; his degree course was aimed at students with English as a second language (help with editing was recommended), and as a qualified dentist with a fine career behind him, he surely had zero incentive to cheat. Anyway, the lawyers argue, even if this motion fails and the jury do find out about IvyAdmit’s assistance to him, “…his conduct would not evince that it is Dr Chow’s character to be untruthful.”

So there. Maybe the judge will sympathize with such a heart-rending tale. The trial itself is still to come, so the ultimate, intriguing question remains to be answered: did the purveyors of ‘allegedly improper academic assistance’ cheat the buyer? Remember (one of life’s hard lessons), only one side can be officially, legally declared as slimy scum.

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25 Responses to Cheating in class

  1. mumphLT says:

    Absolutely no fucking shame; absolutely not fucking trustworthy.

  2. Backspace-Enter-Shift says:

    Just a few months back, a friend of mine who works in one of the colony’s “older and more prestigious universities” caught a student cheating in an exam – some choice phrases written on the 22-year old’s hand. When she reported the issue to the relevant authority, the official dispatched to record the incident let on that the institute had during the December round of exams experienced an unusually high number of cheating cases. Clearly, any employers-of-graduates out there should, like the buyer, “beware”. They might also consider setting their own formal entry tests.

  3. Sid says:

    Staff at most universities who attempt to fail students for plagiarism don’t last long in the job.

  4. Sojourner says:

    Re.your opening remarks on faix-altruism, I am reminded of an article I read a while back in the Grauniad.

    It was of the competitive advantage in the UK of public-school university applicants versus — not kids from the ‘hood — but middle-class and lower-middle-class applicants from comprehensive schools. Due to the very factor you cite, the cynical inclusion of near-obligatory “‘public service”/’charity” extra-curricular activities laid on for the former, the latter find themselves at a bloody great disadvantage.

    T’aint fair!

  5. Big Al says:

    Wonderful stuff. Can’t wait for the movie!

  6. maugrim says:

    As the articles attest, its time for Universities to conduct interviews. The scope of today’s sentiments extends further. I wonder if the student Hemmers spoke to attends an International school, where what used to be ‘focus week’ which involved choices such as sailing in Phuket or Sking in Switzerland has been replaced with an orphanage activity because it ‘ticks an IB box’? Likewise those in HK who parade honorary or dubious Doctorates without any shame at all. The Chinese are just less subtle about how they get ahead.

  7. maugrim says:

    I could add further that Western kids are smarter at playing the system, for example, getting a psychologist or Head Teacher to attest to ‘hardship’ or ‘misadventure’ the poppets faced during exam or term time to gain special consideration for University entry, in lieu of having actually studied….

  8. Real Fax Paper says:

    In defence of the IB schools, a minimum number of hours of community service or activity is a requirement of the qualification. So, yes, it ticks an IB box in the same sense as passing the required exams does.

  9. Headache says:

    Sid, yes. In fact, at one HK tertiary institution (I no longer teach there) I was put to great lengths to justify failing a student who’d attended less than half the classes, been disruptive when in class and achieved a final assessment score below 25%.

    The school in question was known to have an unofficial rule that “everyone gets a B” in order to improve its students’ chances of getting a place in the subsequent professional diploma, and eventually a job, basically because the school’s reputation was a dead weight that had to be overcome.

    The prevailing view seemed to that the teacher had to justify a fail, rather than that the student had to justify a pass, and that “waaah”ing students were entitled to a degree if they’d paid their fees, if only for university PR reasons. Cash, face and harmony more important than integrity.

    Same semester, I also caught out a student who’d copy/pasted an entire published article for her mid-term. If she’d bothered to check who edited the journal in question she might have realised that I’d recognise the article! This one was so plausibly surprised and confused that I let her off with a warning and a chance to re-submit.

    From all this I concluded that there’s at least a sizeable cross-section of HK students who have no apparent understanding of the process or purpose of acquiring knowledge, a deeply ingrained pragmatism when it comes to short-cuts and an indifference to the stigma of cheating.

  10. Scoff Law says:

    In my experience academic credentials reflect the worth of a person very little.

    Best to just ignore them.

  11. Ex Tax Payer says:

    It seems that our mathematically-challenged FS is a product of this systematic cheating based on the rubbish he writes on his blog.

    Oh – I forgot – he studied architecture .. and real architects use quantity surveyors to churn the numbers

    Now if only John Tsang would cut-n-paste some of Jake and Tom’s columns ( or even the esteemed Hemmers when Hemmers is having a good day, like yesterday ) then we would have a FS who at least writes some sense from time to time , even if he is plagiarizing all the way.

    Hence Nikolai Ivanovich LobaChowsky’s advice (as quoted by Tom Lehrer) :

    Plagiarize,
    Let no-one else’s work evade your eyes
    So plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize
    But remember always to call it …
    “Research”

  12. Headache says:

    Scoff Law: I think it’s more helpful to know, within the range of possibilities relevant to you or your business, which degrees are worth having and which mean little. There is a real difference. Also, it generally only takes one or two questions to figure out if a person actually got anything meaningful or useful from what they studied.

  13. Sid says:

    Headache, Absolutely.

    At one local “university”, a student explained in mitigation that she was a journalist In Taiwan, and most of the newspaper articles there were more or less plagiarised. In another case, an end-of-term project was failed due to plagiarism, so the postgraduate student simply plagiarised again for the resit, resulting in a an invitation for a cup of tea by the member of staff concerned.

  14. This makes me wonder why I actually put in some effort to get an MBA when I obviously should have just copied someone else’s work. I wonder where the exam crammers who pose like film stars on the backs of buses here got their advertised doctorates?

  15. Sojourner says:

    Congrats, Hemmers, Paul Zimmerman posted a link to you on Facebook today, and quoted one of your wisdom-laden pearls:

    “Physical bullying of innocent visitors is wrong. But physical bullying of the government is, sadly, the only thing that’s going to work.”

  16. A humongous pile of wads collop says:

    Very nice, la!!!!!!

  17. A humongous pile of wads collop says:

    @ Sojourner

    The lovey-dovey thing Sojourner has for Hemlock must be a worry to the principal author. It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when George exhibited signs of a man-crush: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnSwz-9LLc4

  18. Incredulous says:

    @Private Beach MBA = Master of Bugger All

  19. Sojourner says:

    @ A humongous pile of wads collop

    Ah, you read me like a book.

    You’re quite the bitter old puss though, aren’t you?

  20. Sojourner says:

    @ A humongous pile of wads collop

    And I should add, making jokes through belittling others is the mark of a class-yard bully.

  21. A humongous pile of wads collop says:

    @ Sojourner at 10.53 am and 1.30 pm

    Gosh. Gosh. Gosh. The last time I felt like I think you are feeling was in 1972 (I was then ten). The object of my angst was blonde-haired girl in the parallel class who went by the name of Elaine. She was a member of the school’s Morris Dancing troupe; whenever she performed, I was smitten and mesmerized. Actually, thanks for indirectly reminding me of her!

  22. Sojourner says:

    @ A humongous pile of wads collop

    I don’t feed trolls or sociopaths.

  23. Backspace-Enter-Shift says:

    @ Sojourner

    “A humongous pile of wads collop” is a tad naughty, but trust me, he’s only trying to help. He’s trying to set you free. To this end, is there a Wellcome or Park-n-Shop nearby that sells BBQ charcoal. I know it’s a tad chilly now, but you might want to pop out and make a purchase. The glowing warmth and deep red colour it provides when lit always makes for a comforting sight.

  24. Sojourner says:

    Bless …

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