Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Organizational Theory and Student Cheating: Explanation, Responses, and Strategies

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Organizational Theory and Student Cheating: Explanation, Responses, and Strategies

Article excerpt

Higher education literature is replete with empirical studies of patterns in self-reported cheating behaviors and with essays on the problem. Student cheating is increasingly recognized as a "corrosive problem" (Paldy, 1996) in educational organizations, yet there have been few efforts to provide leaders in higher education with the organizational insights to position higher education for sustained change in regard to this central issue. This article applies an organization-theoretic lens to the management of student academic cheating. We suggest that a new way of looking at the problem is necessary given its inherent complexity and the system in which it is situated. Explanations of student cheating have been offered, and partial institutional responses to the problem have been prescribed; however, strategic and intentional approaches to reducing student cheating have not tended to be theoretically grounded. We believe that by defining the territory between notions of culture and diffusion of best practices, we can inspire and inform organizational change.

Our effort begins with an exploration of the need to apply organizational theory to the problem of student cheating. We discuss the theoretical gaps in the research on student cheating, leading us to delineate the student cheating problem as an adaptive challenge (one that requires learning and changes in attitudes, behaviors, or values) rather than a technical problem (one that can be solved in routine ways). We then review the student cheating research through an organization-theoretic lens. We suggest ways in which we can move from theory to strategy, creating a foundation for comprehensive, intentional approaches to organizational change that will reduce student cheating. This article seeks to instigate dialogue and action on the following questions: What do the student cheating problem and the management of it look like from an organization-theoretic framework? How can academic leaders use this framework to avoid reactive, piecemeal approaches and, instead, engage in strategic, intentional leadership?

Addressing the problem of student cheating through this approach is particularly important at this time. Although researchers have been able to prescribe a variety of ways to cope with the problem of student cheating, many have acknowledged that piecemeal approaches are not the most effective way to manage the problem (Alschuler & Blimling, 1995; Cole & McCabe, 1996; Davis, Grover, Becker, & McGregor, 1992; Hendershott, Drinan, & Cross, 2000; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2001; Whitley & Keith-Spiegel, 2001). Believing that student cheating required a broad and organized response, McCabe founded the Center for Academic Integrity (CAI) in 1993. Many others have noted that we need specific "ways to deal with the corrosive problem of campus cheating which undermines the integrity of the academic enterprise" (Paldy, 1996, p. 6). This broad and organized response could be characterized as an "academic integrity movement" that focuses on reducing student cheating and related forms of academic dishonesty through the promotion of values and best practices. Our proposition is that an organization-theoretic approach provides strategic and leadership possibilities that are beyond the diffusion of best practices as currently understood.

Addressing student cheating is a complex and dynamic challenge. Its dynamic attributes result from the turnover of students, gaps in faculty commitment, and preoccupation with more visible and contemporary problems such as hate crimes, sports corruption, or any of the many other issues demanding attention on our campuses. Student cheating is complex because there are several factors contributing to the problem, thus making it difficult to manage. Moreover, cheating and plagiarism appear to many to be such a perennial and durable issue in the cultures of our campuses that change may seem almost impossible. …

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