The May 10 commencement ceremony at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business was notable for the students who were there to receive their MBA degree, as well as for those who weren't. Missing from the school's 2008 cap- and gown-decorated class that spring morning was nearly 10% of its original members, 24 students who had been either suspended or expelled by the school for their involvement in last spring's final exam cheating scandal.
The class of 2009 also will be making its own mark in Fuqua history, welcoming back about a dozen of the 15 suspended students on campus this fall. It's a new chapter for the battered business school, which is bouncing back from the incident a year later with an uptick in applications and, according to students and administrators, renewed faith in its honor code process.
One year after the cheating scandal broke, the ripple effects of the event—which received national attention—are still being felt on the sprawling gothic campus. The incident had reverberations beyond the mere academic parsing of cooperation and cheating. Nearly all of the accused students were Asian, and a lawyer representing 16 students said that cultural differences may have played a role in how their cases were reviewed by a school judicial board.
Signing the Honor Code Together
In the past year, student leaders have done created "honor representatives" for each class section and raised the visibility of the honor code on all class assignments and exams. About a dozen student task forces were convened this year with names such as "Fuqua Honor Culture" and "Honor Code Ceremony," aimed at trying to make the honor code clearer to both domestic and international students. And this fall, for the first time, the first- and second-year classes will publicly sign the honor code together in the school's basketball arena.
As for the accused students, many were forced to return to their home countries after their student visas expired. They have spent the past year working, taking classes, or boning up their math and language skills, biding their time until they could return to Duke's campus in Durham, N.C. "They paid a huge price," says Blair Sheppard, who became Fuqua's dean on July 1, 2007, about two months after the cheating scandal erupted. "It was a pretty serious penalty that they paid. What's interesting is that they came back."
The accused students will be returning to a campus that has changed drastically since news of the cheating incident broke last April, stunning the business-school community and attracting nationwide publicity. The school's honor code, the benchmark used to judge ethical conduct, has since taken on a renewed, almost hallowed, importance among the student body, students say.
Not the Only Scandal at the Time
"What we wanted to do was take another step to make it clear this was a community standard and something we are doing together," said Charles Scrase, the president of the MBA Association Council for the 2007-08 academic year and a recent graduate. "We wanted the honor code to be a student-run initiative, not just part of the admissions process."
Donald McCabe, a Rutgers University professor who has studied cheating and plagiarism among undergraduate and graduate business, this week praised Duke's handling of the cheating scandal. He noted that the school was in the midst of handling an even bigger ethics controversy, the case of three Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape and other crimes. "They could have just brushed this thing over to the side," McCabe says. "But they let students know head on this is not acceptable behavior now or in the future,"
Nationally, the incident focused attention on academic cheating, especially at business schools. McCabe's research (BusinessWeek, 9/24/06) indicates that business students tend to cheat more than other majors. But despite a lot of talk about the subject, the incident apparently hasn't done much to change the way business-school students approach cheating, McCabe ventures.
Making Things Crystal Clear
"My sense is that it hasn't changed much," McCabe says. "We get business students who, in their own mind, feel justified in cheating because they have this bottom-line mentality. The important thing is getting the job done and how they get it done is a little less important."
Back on the Duke campus, students and faculty say they are hoping the efforts of the past year will dispel any confusion that students, especially those from outside the U.S., might have over the rules laid out in the school's honor code. That means making certain there is no ambiguity over what constitutes an honor code violation, he said. During orientation and throughout the school year, students engaged in a number of role-playing exercises where they acted out specific examples of possible code violations in front of members of the school's judicial review committee. The committee members explained to students what constituted a violation and why, an activity that sharpened students' understanding of the document, says Kim Radford, vice-president of the MBA Association Council for the 2007-08 academic year and a recent Fuqua graduate.
"I think the biggest issue was people didn't understand how to interpret our honor code. What could be done overseas might be fine, but it's not what could be done in the U.S.," Radford says. "We tried to make it as simple as possible so everyone in the institution could understand what constitutes an honor code violation."
Admissions on the Rise
The cheating scandal hasn't affected Fuqua's enrollment, which is actually on the rise. Soon after the scandal broke, administrators mounted an aggressive hand-holding campaign with accepted students to forestall defections. This year, applications were up 5% and the number of accepted students who chose to enroll is also up, according to the school's admissions office.
"As we talk to people about why they are applying, not a majority but a significant percentage of people say, "I'm applying because I see the school as honorable," Sheppard says. "It helped us rather than hurt us. I never want it to happen again, but our response has bought us a lot in a brand sense and in the big meaning sense."