Cheating on the Rise

Although identity theft is commonly thought of as an unlawful act involving a victim and a perpetrator, this is not always the case. Students have utilized this crooked craft as a mechanism for academic dishonesty by taking classes or exams for one another. Eamonn Daniel Higgins was involved in such a case last March wherein he was paid to attend classes under false pretenses at various colleges, including Santa Monica College. After seven years of classes, and over 100 names assumed, Higgins was convicted of visa fraud last April.

About a year after this revealing case, dishonesty on campus still remains a reality.

Even the Internet has become a tool for cavalier students to scout for willing participants in their dishonest ventures. Many ads appear on websites recruiting such students. An ad on craigslist entitled ‘Academic Sample Essay Writing' posted last Wednesday stated, "Our pay rate is between $12 and $24 per 250 word page."

Academic dishonesty in general is on the rise at Santa Monica College, with 114 incidents occurring in just the last six months of 2010. These cases are reported by faculty, students or campus police, and are handled by Judith Penchansky, Dean of Student Services and campus disciplinarian.

"This shreds at the very fabric of the integrity of the institution," Penchansky said. "Students can be very clever and it's hard to stay ahead of the curve. We can't really but we can help prevent and bring things to light."According to Penchansky, most teachers either do not report cheating in their classroom, or have their own method of dealing with the problem.

While cheating in and of its self is not illegal, the police can still work on cases concerning academic dishonesty. The police predominantly involve themselves with the issue of fraudulent documents used to enter classes. Many students try to have others take the assessment tests for them in the hopes of skipping prerequisite classes.

"At bureaucracies like this it's like an onion and there are layers. In a sense, the assessment staff over there are the first line of defense against these type of things," said Sgt. Jere Romano of the SMC Police Department.

The Bursar's Office is another front where the war against dishonesty continues. People show up with no real proof of identity and expect school IDs. Many times the police will be sent to validate student identities.

In various cases students borrow legitimate identification from a sibling or friend. Because this is presenting false identification, it can be treated as a crime.If a student is suspected of fraud, a report is sent to the District Attorney's Office, who determines whether or not to prosecute.

"Sometimes they will work out a deal with the person in the case of a first time offense. You've got to remember we are dealing with a lot of young kids. We're not looking at hardened criminals trying to bring mules of drugs," said Sgt. Romano.

Students entering SMC sign a statement called the College Academic Code of Conduct. This document ensures students will act fairly in their academic practices and is non-negotiable.

"It's incumbent on all of us to talk about the value of academic integrity and to uphold the Academic Code of Conduct," said Tina Feiger, SMC psychology professor and counselor. "It takes the entire campus community to buy into this key institutional learning objective of promoting academic integrity."

Although there is no school wide policy being put into place, teachers are responding to this behavior. Tests are being facilitated in a stricter manner, seat charts are being put in place and cell phone use is strictly forbidden. Having to flash identification on exam days is another safeguard that is being considered.

"We work with teachers to really be vigilant about who is in your class, get to know your students, make that face-to-face eye contact with them. Get to know their names, proctor your tests, have a seating chart, ask for ID, it's more preventative than after the fact," said Penchansky.