Duke Works to Stem Fuqua Fallout

In the wake of a cheating scandal, e-mails and phone calls to worried alums and concerned applicants

When news of the cheating scandal at Duke's Fuqua School of Business broke last week, school administrators quickly devised plans to simultaneously reassure and inform incoming students and alumni. Gordon Soenksen, Fuqua's associate dean, sent out an e-mail to alumni with a copy of a statement from Dean Douglas Breeden about the business school's honor code.

Liz Riley Hargrove, the school's director of admissions, quickly followed suit, sending out a note May 1 to admitted students who had made deposits for next year. "We felt like they were the newest members of the community and because they weren't there on a daily basis like the rest of us were, they needed to be informed about that as well." She adds, "I imagine there are some students questioning whether Duke is the right place for them."

Indeed, for the past week, Duke's has grappled with the aftermath of the B-school's Judicial Board ruling on the fate of the 34 students implicated in the cheating incident, nine of whom will be expelled (see BusinessWeek.com, 4/30/07, "Duke MBAs Fail Ethics Test"). The students were convicted of collaborating with each other in mid-March on an open-book take-home exam and also on class assignments.

New Details Emerge

It is the largest episode of cheating in the school's history, and school administrators have wrestled with how to communicate with incoming students, alums, and the larger public about the situation while protecting the privacy of the students involved in the case, says Mike Hemmerich, Fuqua's associate dean for marketing and communications. "We just want to keep people updated on the process because it is an extraordinary event for our school," he says. "But we obviously have to balance that with the need and legal requirement for the confidentiality of the process and the students involved."

Still, a handful of new details emerged this week about the incident. School officials confirmed earlier this week that some of Fuqua's international students were involved in the episode. "Reflecting the global diversity of Duke's Fuqua School of Business, the students involved come from multiple countries on four different continents," wrote Dean Breeden in an e-mail update sent to students and faculty May 2.

Breeden also said that he will be a member of the Appeals Committee. He will appoint a tenured faculty member and student to sit on the committee with him. "I am confident that the appeals process will show the same meticulous consideration for each and every appeal," Breeden wrote.

Black Eye for Reputation

School officials could not confirm whether any appeals had been filed yet, but they are expecting some to be filed. "It's typical in these cases that there are appeals," Hemmerich says.

Meanwhile, the admissions office has been reaching out to incoming students in the past few days. Hargrove, Fuqua's admissions director, has spent time on the phone talking with students who had specific questions about the facts surrounding the case and how it has affected the Duke community. "Our hope is that they understand that this was a process that is important for us to uphold and it is something we take seriously. It was the right course of action for the students who will remain and for the university."

The outreach by Duke is important. Since the incident occurred, questions have arisen in the larger business school and academic community about the challenges of enforcing an honor code in a population of students who are driven, competitive, and in some instances willing to cut corners to get ahead. The discussion has not always been flattering to Duke, B-schools in general, and business ethics.

Teamwork Is Key

"Students do believe that people who are really successful in our society couldn't have possibly gotten where they are honestly," says John Knapp, director of the Southern Institute for Professional & Business Ethics at Georgia State University's Robinson College of Business. "That kind of thinking could lead one to rationalize and say, 'This is just what you have to do. Everybody is doing it.'"

Another issue clouding the discussion is the nature of the B-school experience. At Duke, for example, students complete the majority of their assignments in teams (see BusinessWeek.com, 5/14/07, "Cheating—Or Postmodern Learning?").

"This team environment does give people much closer contact with their classmates. So many times they will think—sometimes acting on an impulse—to consult a classmate on a practical issue. That's where the questions could arise," says Arthur Kraft, chairman of AACSB International, the primary accrediting association for business schools in the U.S., and dean of Chapman University's George L. Argyros School of Business & Economics. "As a result, some may see these people on teams almost as an extension of themselves."

Not a Deal-Breaker

Still, Duke's Hemmerich says, students are expected to know where to draw the line between collaboration and solo work: "We do have a very collaborative, team-oriented environment, but the rules are very clear when it is time to work on an individual basis."

So far, it seems that the incident isn't a deal-breaker for some admitted Duke MBAs. Matt Schaar, 26, an engineer for an aerospace company in Seattle who has been accepted to Fuqua's Cross-Continent MBA program, says he was impressed by the school's quick reaction to the incident. He is still considering whether to attend Fuqua next year, but says the cheating case will not influence his decision.

"I don't hold the fact that 10% of the entering class decided to cheat against the school itself," Schaar says. "Their only job is to evaluate the people who will fit in best. I don't think it's possible that you can determine whether a person will cheat or not by a 21-page application and interview. You just can't glean that."

Saleem Hussain, 26, a consultant in the Boston area who received his bachelor's degree from Duke four years ago and was recently admitted to Fuqua says he has spent the past few days closely following the reaction to the scandal in online chat rooms and forums. "It has only encouraged me to support Duke more and to continue going there to show that I do actually go there for the academics and the teaching and everything that Duke actually stands for," he says.

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