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Jun 06, 2013 09:56 AM EDT

Barnard Investigates Cheating Scandal in the English Department


Around 120 students at the Barnard College, an undergraduate women's college of Columbia University, are still reeling over the fact that they were asked to take a final exam of the course: Major English Texts II, which was not originally part of the curriculum after a minor cheating scandal involving the same course was disclosed by Columbia's unofficial student blog, Bwog, late last month.

The exam for the popular English Survey course was conducted in a large auditorium, rather than in the classroom, which was monitored by extra faculty members.

"Very quiet, very structured, everyone being quiet and following all the rules," said Andrea Wycoff, a junior. "We had to leave our bags and cellphones and everything at the front of the room."

Although the cheating at Barnard was not similar to the scandal reported at Harvard, students were asked to repeat the exam after it was revealed that they shared quiz answers, whispered and texted answers to each other during weekly reading quizzes, changed grades and even used bribes, taking advantage of the loose structure of the class and its laid-back teacher.

Several students said that everybody cheated during a series of in-class quizzes in which students were supposed to grade one another.

Sarah Stano, 21, a junior, said that the class was so big that Peggy Ellsberg, the course's instructor "can't see in the back, what people are doing."

"People would talk to each other" during the quizzes, she said.

Stano was aware of the cheating process in the fall semester itself when she taught Major English Texts I course. For the spring semester, she designed the course with stricter protocols that included writing answers in ink rather than pencil. Even then the cheating continued in various other forms.

"It came to her attention that people were either passing the quizzes to their friends or just grading their own, Wycoff said. In order to solve this mess, Stano decided to assign a few reliable students to grade the quizzes for the whole class.

 "Then the next class she came in and said that now it was an issue with the deans and the registrars, because student graders said that kids in the class were offering to pay them to give people good grades on the quizzes,"  Wycoff recalled.

Some students blamed the structure of the course for the minor cheating incident.

"I think the way the class is run is conducive to cheating, so I'm not surprised," said Sarah Svirsky, a senior. When students have the chance to grade their own work, you're going to give yourself an A and I think that has to do with the pressures that come from going to a school like this."

"Students knew that the syllabus was the same from semester to semester, and that was a huge problem," says Eloise, a recent Barnard grad who took the class as a sophomore. "We only had to write two short essays over the course of the semester, so the majority of your grade was based on those quizzes."

Others blamed the students.

"It shouldn't be on the teacher to tell people not to cheat, it should be on the women of Barnard College," wrote one commenter on Bwog.

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Provided by University of Waterloo

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