Alex Rodriguez, Lance Armstrong, and Bernie Madoff. What do they have in common? Trying to obtain high returns without regard for the rules—cheating.
Pressures to bend the rules at colleges and elsewhere are enormous. We would all like to find a risk-free get rich quick scheme that works. History is replete with tales of suckers who fall for these scams. For example, close to 300 years ago the Irish financier John Law initiated the Mississippi land scheme by selling bogus shares in the rapidly appreciating Mississippi Company. For a time, Law was able to convince his investors that there were easy riches to be made by investing in his scheme to mine emeralds in the new world. Such scams involve two sorts of people: those who are fooled by the con and those who know better but who let the scam continue.
More recently we have seen the enormous cost in terms of human disappointment and lack of educational attainment, in the UNC athletic scandal.
How do we address cheating on college campuses? As students find new ways to secure answers or help on assignments, new ways to detect cheating emerge. None of this seems to put a dent in the real problem of cheating: more is required than the threat or actuality of punishment. Until we change attitudes about the recklessness of obtaining something for nothing and affirm instead that academic achievement, like all excellence, requires hard work and time, cheating will continue, both on college campuses and outside the Academy.
Cheating scandals in higher education reveal a key divide—similar to the divide between those who are conned and those who know there is a con but do not care—between those who fail to take the academic mission of the school seriously and those who actually do the academic work required to earn the degree. This is the age-old problem of faction where those in one group collude without regard for, indeed at the expense of, those outside the group. Adam Smith saw factions as the biggest challenge to his system of virtue ethics. While scholarship in leadership focuses on group dynamics, it would also be well worth turning our attention to how to break down the barriers formed by groups.