Freshman Julie Erhardt put it bluntly: “If everybody’s cheating and you’re not, you’re behind the curve.”
While students may cheat on SAT tests and bend other college admissions rules, the deception often does not stop there, students say. At the University of Miami, academic dishonesty is easy to come across, and it's hard not to feel its effects.
Erhardt, a student in the business school, is not alone in witnessing students resorting to a number of tactics to cheat on tests and get someone else to do their essays and write their term papers to dupe the system.
According to the UM Honor Council, cheating, plagiarism and collusion are all forms of academic dishonesty and are entirely unacceptable in any scholastic setting. The honor council website states that the primary purpose of the UM Honor Council is “to uphold a high standard of academic integrity and honesty, both inside and outside of the classroom.” It aspires to do so by educating the university community and adjudicating in situations of academic dishonesty.
In an official statement, the UM administration responded to inquiries about cheating by saying, “The university expects all students will adhere to the highest standards of ethics and academic integrity, and any type of academic fraud will not be tolerated.”
Nonetheless, cheating persists.
“Naturally people want things to come easy,” said a freshman in the School of Communication who chose to remain anonymous. “There are many students at UM who I’ve heard of that pay other people to do their exams.”
This sort of behavior, although varying in its magnitude across the board, is not uncommon at UM, students say.
Libby White, a freshman majoring in ecosystem science and policy, said she has seen students cheat.
“Cheating appears to be pretty common because you take a look around and you’re like ‘I’m confused.’ People are underqualified,” she said.
White said cheating creates an academic facade, pressuring students to continue their dishonesty or commit other deceitful acts to maintain their false image.
The problem of cheating among students is not without its explanation; individuals are inclined to cheat for a multitude of reasons, including a need to maintain scholarships that provide crucial financial aid.
Senior Maxine Seif attested to the pressures of conformity at the university and how it evokes cheating among a greater number of students.
“A lot of people I think just decide, ‘Oh, for me it’s just going to be better to cheat now because everyone else is doing it and I’m just going to be behind,’” she said. “You’re just going to be inherently behind if people have all the answers and you don’t. I think it just encourages cheating more, which is kind of a bummer because then it just spirals into a bigger issue.”
Seif reported seeing students using their cell phones to text each other during exams or take pictures of the test to send to friends who are in classes that will take the same exam later. She said behavior such as this "puts everyone at a disadvantage especially at schools that use curves and grade students based on how well the other students in the class do.”
In the age of the internet, online test banks with every potential exam question and smart watches that access websites and display photographs both stand as testaments to the fact that students are surrounded by all the resources they would need if they chose to cheat.
An alumna from the class of 1982 said she has noticed an evident change in the presence of cheating since her time at the university.
“I was doing in-state tuition, and we didn't have as much competition as it is today," she said. "It was more relaxed back in my day. It used to be called ‘The Sunshine U’ with a bigger party scene. I never witnessed any cheating. It was a different time though."
Just as there are various reasons for why a student may act with dishonesty, there are also an abundant number of resources available that allow students to partake in such behavior. Despite the fact that cheating may be present on campus, various groups and organizations have been established to curb the need to participate in academic dishonesty.
The Academic Resource Center, Writing Center, Math Lab and Chemistry Resource Center all provide students with the resources they need to succeed under the school’s honor code and without putting others at a disadvantage.
Veronika Seider, Damaris Zamudio, Tyler Walsh and Alexis Hurwitz contributed to this reporting.