Viewpoint on Cheating in Chemical Engineering Courses

As a graduate student in chemical engineering, I occasionally have to serve as a teaching assistant (TA) for a professor’s course. I grade homeworks, proctor exams, and present lecture materials. I also hold office hours. In short, I am just like a professor… just not paid remotely as much and not given nearly the same level of respect from students (though students tend to be disrespectful as hell to professors these days anyways, so I guess that leaves little to complain about).

Anyways, as a TA, I have observed some pretty brazen cases of cheating. I also observed plenty of it at my undergraduate alma mater. I admit, I was unbelievably naive when I first observed cheating in undergraduate chemical engineering. You’d think that such behavior would lead to immediate expulsion and public shaming – I assumed that to be the case by default. The impact on society would be far too detrimental. Chemical engineers frequently are involved in work that requires obsessive attention to detail, and the consequences can be disastrous to the public at large. What good is it to have these occupations filled with idiots that cheated in school and have no idea what they are doing?

But apparently my “betters” have other ideas.

Here is a short list of activities that I encountered when I was an undergraduate or a teaching assistant:

  • Openly picking up quiz papers off a friend’s desk and reading them during a quiz.
  • Outright starting an exam early after I said not to start it, and getting argumentative when I told him to stop.
  • Copying entire semester projects.
  • Copying and answerkeying homeworks.
  • Copying computer codes from the internet… with the original author’s comments still in the code (stupid is as stupid does).

There is also the cheating that doesn’t count as cheating – gaming the system. You see friends, the university I am at has enormous protections in place for students with “learning disabilities.” Why someone with a “learning disability” should be enrolled in college, I have no idea. A small subset of highly unscrupulous students (which are in every class, every semester) have been able to convince a quack doctor somewhere they have a learning disability, and because of that, are entitled to huge advantages during exams. These include:

  • Being read the exam orally.
  • Having someone else physically write the exam for them.
  • Huge amounts of extra time, e.g. 60 to 90 minutes more than the regular students get. This is the one that burns my butt the most, as my exams in undergrad were often down-to-the-wire. I would have cruised through engineering school if I had an extra hour on all of my exams.

The whole thing is a crock of slop. Dealing with these students, I can say one thing categorically – there’s nothing wrong with them except their lack of morals. They can see, speak, hear, talk, and feel. They can stand on one leg. They can jump up and down. They often have plenty of time to go running and go to the gym. But gee whiz… they just happen to have some unfalsifiable disability that grants them huge advantages over everyone else. What baloney.

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