Dishonesty: A Crisis on Campus
Forging Ethical Professionals Begins in
By Jacqueline A. Burke, Ralph S. Polimeni, and Nathan S.
MAY 2007 - The
recent corporate accounting scandals at Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia
Communications, and Tyco International, as well as the largest American
embezzlement of taxpayer funds of a school district, in Roslyn,
N.Y., have compelled academics to review the ethical training of
students. Many of the corporate executives involved in the fraudulent
acts were trained in some of the most prestigious schools in the
of higher education are integrating courses on ethics into their
curricula. There is an urgency to educate business students about
the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). Courses and programs on forensic
accounting are also being expanded and repositioned to a higher
and universities have been investigating another contributing
factor to the failed ethical conduct of our corporate executives
and professional accountants: academic dishonesty on our campuses.
Various studies suggest that we may be at the precipice of a culture
of academic malfeasance, where large numbers of students engage
in various forms of cheating.
is troubling, especially because our business schools provide
the formative training for many of our corporate and professional
executives. Even more disturbing is that two studies [S. Nonis
and C.O. Swift, “An Examination of the Relationship Between
Academic Dishonesty and Workplace Dishonesty: A Multicampus Investigation,”
Journal of Education for Business, November/December 2001, 69–76,
and R.L. Sims, “The Relationship Between Academic Dishonesty
and Unethical Business Practices,” Journal of Education
for Business, 68 (4), 1993, 207–212] found that students
who committed acts of academic dishonesty in college were more
likely to engage in unethical acts in the business environment.
This is very disturbing and should not be taken lightly.
Students and Academic Dishonesty
should be expected to behave ethically and be academically honest.
Because of the potential for accountants to be at the center of
unethical business behavior, it is even more important to hold
accounting students to the highest standards. It is imperative
that educators encourage and insist on the academic honesty of
accounting students. Academics must implement and enforce a strong
code of academic honesty so that unethical accounting students
are weeded out before they enter the accounting profession.
It is time
for accounting professors and universities to take action. Just
as SOX calls for stiffer penalties for business executives convicted
of committing white-collar crimes, accounting students should
face strong penalties for acts of academic dishonesty. Academic
institutions should develop policies and procedures aimed at preventing
academic dishonesty. A strong message needs to be sent to accounting
students that academic dishonesty will not be tolerated—those
who commit these acts will be severely penalized. What better
place to restore the image of accountants than in the academic
environment, where future accountants are educated?
step requires examining what appears to be a serious issue of
academic dishonesty on college campuses. Academic dishonesty policies
vary among institutions of higher education. The authors will
recommend specific changes in the accounting education process
to discourage academic dishonesty. Their purpose is to sound the
clarion call to reverse this culture of academic dishonesty.
of the Problem
on academic dishonesty is very disturbing. Professor Donald McCabe,
the founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity (CAI),
an organization of over 390 colleges, universities, and high schools
based at Duke University, is dedicated to providing resources
for creating a culture of academic integrity. McCabe, with the
assistance of the CAI, has conducted extensive research on academic
dishonesty (see www.academicintegrity.org). In one study, initiated
in 2002, he canvassed close to 50,000 undergraduate students across
60 U.S. campuses and found that:
- A majority
of students surveyed confessed to engaging in some form of cheating.
25% of the students admitted to “serious” cheating
on a recent exam.
percent of the students participated in “serious”
acts of cheating at least once on written assignments.
faculty surveyed, 44% of those aware of cheating never reported
the incidents to the university.
the CAI found more troubling results in a survey conducted from
2002 to 2005 [“Cheating Among College and University Students:
A North American Perspective,” International Journal
for Educational Integrity 1(1), 2005]. This study involved
approximately 80,000 students and 12,000 faculty members from
83 U.S. and Canadian campuses. Participants were asked to report
whether they performed or observed any of seven acts of academic
dishonesty, such as copying material from another student or using
unauthorized material (e.g., cheat sheets) during an exam. The
following are some of the research’s findings:
is pervasive within colleges and universities. About 21% of
undergraduates engage in some form of serious cheating.
- At least
33% of undergraduate students obtained unauthorized information
prior to an exam.
- The highest
level of academic dishonesty is found among undergraduate business
majors. About 26% of business majors committed severe acts of
cheating, compared to 20% for other disciplines.
40% of undergraduates engage in some form of plagiarism, such
as copying and pasting materials without attribution.
enrolled in colleges and universities with honor codes engaged
in fewer acts of academic dishonesty. This held true only where
the institution actively supported and promoted the honor code.
most disturbing data from the McCabe findings is the direct relationship
between academic dishonesty and the most rigorous fields of study.
Cheating appears to be more prevalent among pre-med, engineering,
and business majors (accounting being one of the most rigorous
majors in business). The pressure to succeed and advance to the
next level in medical or graduate school contributes to unethical
behavior on campuses.
Contributing to Academic Dishonesty
factor leading to academic dishonesty appears to be poor academic
standards. In addition, the McCabe research suggests that faculty
on many campuses ignore cheating. Many professors do not wish
to get involved in the bureaucratic process required to report
and, when appropriate, punish students accused of academic dishonesty.
For example, one study [M.P. Jendrek, “Faculty Reactions
to Academic Dishonesty,” Journal of College Student
Development, 30 (5), September 1989] found that the majority
of faculty who witnessed cheating did not report the incident.
According to an interview with McCabe on ABC News (April 29, 2004),
another study revealed that many faculty members have admitted
to not even confronting the student.
do not think they have the support of their administration. Students
observed this indifference and therefore were less inhibited to
commit acts of academic dishonesty. In such a lax environment,
many students justify cheating as a means of staying competitive
with the cheaters.
also plays a role by making it easier to cheat. Students are able
to use a variety of electronic devices, such as cellphones, iPods,
electronic calculators, and personal data assistants (PDA), to
cheat on examinations. Sophisticated cellphones have become the
new medium for creating cheat sheets of formulas and other crucial
information, allowing users to text-message answers during an
exam and even take pictures of an exam to give to friends taking
the exam later.
are often more technologically adept than their professors at
using these electronic devices, but some faculty are getting savvy.
In a sting operation several years ago at the University of Maryland
[reported in Emy Kuriakose, “Cheating on College Campuses
Grows with Technology,” Stonybrook Statesman, March
28, 2003, and M. McGeeney and M. Serrill-Robins, “University
of Maryland Students Confess to Cheating on a Final Exam,”
Amherst Student Online, February 5, 2003], 12 students
enrolled in a principles of accounting course were apprehended
for cheating on a final examination. The professor, who already
suspected that cheating was taking place in the class, posted
an answer key on the Internet so that students could check the
answers after the final. The key was already posted while the
students were taking the exam; however, incorrect answers were
purposely posted. The test-takers reportedly arranged to have
friends access the answers and text-message them to the test-takers.
A comparison of the students’ answers with the false answer
key made it clear that the students had copied it.
has always been a problem, particularly in courses that require
research papers. Technology has also exacerbated this problem.
Students can use the Internet to copy and paste large amounts
of text without attribution. Furthermore, term papers can easily
be found on the Internet. Some sites ask students to “donate”
one of their papers in exchange for another. On many other websites,
students can purchase a term paper, either “as is”
or custom-tailored to an assignment. Programs such as Turnitin
are available to help faculty detect plagiarism; however, they
will not detect ghost-written term papers. Indeed, an entire online
cottage industry of writing research papers for students has developed.
business scandals have led to long jail sentences and fines for
those found guilty of white-collar crimes. James Olis, a finance
executive from Dynergy, received a 24-year sentence for securities
fraud (later reduced). Andrew Fastow, Enron’s CFO, pleaded
guilty and received 10 years for wire and securities fraud. Dennis
Kozlowski, the former CEO of Tyco, was sentenced to a prison term
of eight to 25 years. Bernard Ebbers, the former CEO of WorldCom,
was sentenced to a 25-year prison term. Although this wave of
tougher penalties may not prevent all people from committing white-collar
crimes, it is likely to act as a deterrent.
and universities should also impose stronger penalties for accounting
students who commit acts of academic dishonesty. Accounting students
should learn by example about the consequences of unethical behavior.
Steps must be taken to prevent academic dishonesty from occurring,
and schools must take immediate and strong action when it does
place to start is at the beginning of the admissions process.
Colleges and universities should expand the screening of applicants,
reviewing the records of prospective students for unethical behavior,
particularly academic dishonesty. High schools should be encouraged
to record acts of academic dishonesty on a student’s transcript
or make it part of the permanent file. College applications should
ask if a student has ever been found guilty of academic dishonesty.
College applicants should further be reviewed for any criminal
board should be established to review the records of students
who were found guilty of academic dishonesty. The board should
consider whether guilty applicants should be permitted to major
in accounting. At a minimum, high school records should remain
part of a student’s file. If the student with a high school
record of academic dishonesty is found guilty of an act of academic
dishonesty while at college, the student has clearly not learned
from previous experience and action should be taken.
very important step is to create, implement, and enforce a code
of academic honesty. The McCabe research suggests that academic
dishonesty will be less prevalent where there is a campus culture
that strongly supports academic integrity. Codes of conduct help
create such a culture.
As part of
their code of academic conduct, universities can develop an honor
code. Honor codes can vary; some universities, such as West Point
and Princeton University, have adopted a formal honor code. These
institutions uphold the highest levels for an academic code of
conduct. Examinations are administered without the presence of
professors or proctors, and students are required to report on
their classmates if they observe them cheating. Students at Princeton
are required to sign the following statement before turning in
I pledge my honor that I have not violated the Honor Code during
this Examination. (www.princeton.edu/pr/pub/rrr/05/33b.htm)
ask that their students report acts committed by other students,
but do not explicitly require it.
an honor code, a university must first define academic dishonesty.
Any definition should include examples in order for students to
understand exactly what is meant by academic dishonesty. It is
not uncommon for a student to get caught committing a dishonest
act and claim he did not know that the act was wrong. For example,
a recent front-page article (Robert Tomsho, “Familiar Words:
Student Plagiarism Stirs Controversy at Ohio University,”
Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2006) noted the case
of a former engineering graduate student at Ohio University who
copied approximately seven pages of text from another author for
his thesis. Although the information copied was almost identical
to the original source, the text was not set in quotation marks
and footnotes were not provided. The former student, who is currently
an engineering professor, claimed he was not aware that he was
plagiarizing because the source was included in the bibliography.
To prevent situations like these from occurring, and to be able
to address them if they do, definitions of academic dishonesty
must be provided to students.
of academic dishonesty are often provided in a university’s
code of academic conduct. Exhibit
1, which lists examples of academic dishonesty, is provided
by George Washington University in its “Code of Academic
Integrity, Article II,” and the examples are typical of
those provided by other universities. (Readers should refer to
for detailed definitions.)
of Academic Dishonesty Policies
Once a definition
of academic dishonesty is developed, universities can then develop
their academic dishonesty policies (i.e., code of conduct). Universities
should first review any existing policies, and assess whether
the policies are adequate and are being followed. Existing policies
should be modified and new policies should be put into place where
The CAI can
serve as a useful resource when developing a new or revised code
of academic honesty. The CAI’s website lists close to 60
colleges and universities and 10 high schools that have adopted
some form of an honor code. For example, the following are provisions
of the University of Maryland’s Code of Academic Integrity
of academic dishonesty—such as cheating, fabrication,
facilitating academic dishonesty, and plagiarism.
statement—requires all entering students to sign a document
to adhere to all the standards of academic integrity.
pledge—requires all students to hand-write and sign the
following statement after the completion of an examination:
“I pledge on my honor that I have not given or received
any unauthorized assistance on this examination.”
may avoid disciplinary action by reporting that they have engaged
in acts of academic dishonesty.
board—a semi-judicial body of students and faculty to
review infractions and assess penalties.
- XF grade—a
grade that denotes failure in the course due to an act of academic
dishonesty. (This has been referred to as the “Scarlet
Letter” grade by academics. A student can apply to have
the grade converted to an F after a probationary period. At
minimum, currently enrolled students must have completed a noncredit
course on academic integrity before a change is considered.
XF grades for serious “premeditated” cheating cannot
usually be changed.)
should also require that faculty report all incidences of academic
misconduct. A review of the policies on academic dishonesty at
various colleges and universities revealed that while some require
faculty to report instances of cheating, many do not. Therefore,
by the time a student is reported to the administration, he could
have already been suspected of committing acts of academic dishonesty
in other classes. One university in the New York City metropolitan
area states in its policy that if the instructor suspects academic
dishonesty, she has various options:
the work in question,
the grade for the assignment in question,
an F in the course, or
the incident to the academic integrity committee if the instructor
thinks that the student should be suspended or expelled.
Even if the
student is not reported to the academic integrity committee, however,
the faculty member is required to place a record of the incident
in the student’s academic file.
have policies that treat a first offense of academic dishonesty
much more lightly than a second offense. As a result, faculty
should be required to report any instances of academic dishonesty
to the appropriate department or individual, in case another situation
arises with the same student. Because universities often state
that repeated offenses will result in more serious penalties,
up to suspension or expulsion, it is imperative that faculty report
all instances to create a record. It is imperative, moreover,
that universities have policies that will support faculty during
acts of academic dishonesty.
should also set up uniform policies on what forms of technology
can be used during exams. For example, schools should consider
banning all but basic, nonprogrammable calculators. Universities
should consider providing the calculators during exams—something
which was done during the paper CPA exam (students now use the
exam computer to a perform calculations). Cellphones should not
be permitted at all during exams.
implement academic dishonesty policies, the policies must be strongly
enforced and the process must be periodically assessed.
Agencies and Honors Organizations
to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the accreditation
agency for business schools, can play a significant role in the
handling of academic dishonesty by requiring that all accredited
schools have strict academic dishonesty policies that are not
only in place, but enforced. In section E of its standards, the
AACSB states that ethical behavior is necessary for a quality
education. The AACSB should evaluate a school to make sure that
an academic code of conduct is in place, and that enforcement
procedures are being followed.
accounting students are usually members of Beta Alpha Psi, the
national accounting-student fraternity known for the valuable
career opportunities it can provide. This organization has a very
solemn induction ceremony where the inductee is required to recite
an oath to adhere to the ethical proscriptions of the organization.
In the Beta Alpha Psi induction ceremony, the corresponding secretary
cites the second standard of personal responsibility:
of the nature of the work of a financial information professional
it is essential that you be a person of integrity, conducting
yourself with honor in all situations. (www.bap.org/initiate/hminitia.htm)
inductees’ admission to the fraternity, the treasurer administers
the following oath:
I, [honorary member’s name], do solemnly promise that I
will abide by the International Constitution and Chapter Bylaws
of Beta Alpha Psi to the best of my ability. I further promise
to maintain the highest moral and professional standing and always
to foster the ideals and purposes of Beta Alpha Psi. (www.bap.org/initiate/hminitia.htm)
found guilty of acts of academic dishonesty should be barred from
membership into Beta Alpha Psi. Likewise, the membership of current
members should be revoked if they are found guilty of such acts.
Many accounting students are aware of the importance of becoming
a Beta Alpha Psi member, and should be aware of the severity of
such a penalty. Other honors organizations, such as Beta Gamma
Sigma, should also adopt strong policies against academic dishonesty.
Acts of Academic Dishonesty to NASBA
should charges of academic dishonesty become part of a student’s
record, but each state board of public accountancy should review
the academic records of applicants for licensure. The authors
believe that each state should set up an ethical review board
that would review the records of CPA candidates suspected of academic
dishonesty to determine their eligibility for licensure. Schools
should report acts of academic dishonesty to the National Association
of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA; www.nasba.org),
and NASBA should create a master list of the names of students
charged and circulate that list to each state board.
On the application
to apply for a CPA license, after “ever been charged with
criminal behavior?” candidates should also be asked if they
have ever been found guilty of academic dishonesty. For example,
in its “Application for Licensure and First Registration
Form, (Certified Public Accountant Form 1),” the New York
State Department of Education (www.op.nysed.gov)
asks candidates several questions about any criminal records they
have and any charges against them for professional misconduct.
The candidates are then required to give details about the charges,
and provide legal supporting documentation. Within this section,
candidates should also be required to provide information about
any convictions for academic dishonesty. Exhibit
2 is an example from the New York form, with the last question,
in bold italics, added by the authors to address academic dishonesty.
answering yes to the question about academic dishonesty should
be carefully evaluated to determine if they should be permitted
to obtain a CPA license.
and Professional Licensure
question whether such extreme measures are warranted. After all,
is academic dishonesty that serious? This is something that the
profession needs to consider carefully. Readers should think about
how they would feel if a doctor received a license even though
he cheated on examinations during medical school or forged the
results of a research study. Some may believe that accountants
should not be held to the same standards as medical doctors because
accountants do not have the responsibility for people’s
lives—their physical health. Accountants do, however, have
responsibility for people’s financial well-being. Let’s
not forget about the victims of Enron who lost their retirement
funds with the collapse of the company.
promoting and enforcing academic honesty is in the best interest
of honest students—who earn their grades, as opposed to
the cheaters. Students compete for the best jobs, and employers
compete for the best students. Imagine two students competing
for the same position, the honest one with a 3.4 grade point average
(GPA) and the dishonest one with a 3.8 GPA. Assuming other factors
are equal, who will most likely receive the job? Who loses in
this situation? Who are the winners? Did the employer win or lose?
Did the academically honest student get rewarded for ethical behavior?
What does this teach students and future accountants?
must demonstrate to students that unethical behavior in the classroom
will not be tolerated any more than it would be tolerated in the
accounting profession. If a student is caught cheating, the student
should suffer a serious punishment. Although the problem of academic
dishonesty appears to be out of control, the McCabe research does
provide hope for institutions that are proactive rather than reactive
in their efforts to achieve academic integrity.
For additional information, please see
Sidebar 1 and Sidebar
A. Burke, PhD, CPA, is an assistant professor of accounting;
Ralph S. Polimeni, PhD, CPA, holds the Chaykin
Endowed Chair in Accounting and serves as the vice provost for
accreditation and assessment; and Nathan S. Slavin, PhD,
CPA, is an associate professor of accounting, all in
the department of accounting, taxation and legal studies in business
at the Frank G. Zarb School of Business, Hofstra University, Hempstead,
N.Y. This article was funded by the Frank G. Zarb School of Business
at Hofstra University.