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Understanding Cheating: From the University Classroom to the Workplace

2012-01-01 , Ravenscroft, Sue , Kaufmann, Jeffrey , Shrader, Charles , Management , Accounting

Cheating is defined as taking information, credit, or reward that one neither deserves nor did the work to achieve. Cheating behavior is often seen as a driver behind many of our current economic problems and the temptation to cheat has been associated with our downward slide in business practice for the past two decades. For example, the current housing crisis has been explained in part as banks cheating in terms of qualifying people for loans. Additionally, current headlines focus on legislators and Wall Street analysts who cheat investors by unfairly taking advantage of inside information not publicly available to others in the market. Cheating defeats fairness of competition and undermines the basis of business integrity. Writers in the business press are expressing concern over the widespread levels of ‘cheating’ among business executives. Enron, HealthSouth, and Tyco, all cheated shareholders in order to pad the pockets of their corporate executives. Some of the smartest and best business minds have fallen subject to the temptation to cheat and the result has been some of the most wideranging financial regulation in our history. The Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank Acts were enacted in reaction to the perceived prevalence of cheating by business managers. The controversial new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is yet another attempt to address this problem. Classroom teachers are also experiencing a growing concern over what seems to be ever increasing levels of cheating among students. Students cheat for a variety of reasons including a felt pressure to maintain good grades and because they perceive many opportunities to cheat but few real penalties for getting caught. Instructor behavior may unwittingly exacerbate the problem by giving unclear or arbitrary assignments that create a climate for cheating when students view the benefits of figuring out and completing the assignment honestly to be minimal at best. The problem of classroom cheating is that students are likely to carry the behaviors they learn in the classroom into the workplace. It is this prospect that leads us to examine the nature of classroom cheating as a precursor to what might happen in actual business settings. It is likely that many of us have cheated at something or in some way, however unimportant, in our lives. We may have taken advantage of unsuspecting others in sports or play and the amount of harm done is probably very little and accepted as part of the interaction. But when the stakes get higher and include academic or business integrity and the validity of a grade or financial statement are at stake, then cheating has significant potential consequences, and needs to be both understood and managed.