Cheating at Caltech
Caltech has a serious problem with undergraduates cheating on academic work, which Caltech administrators appear to be ignoring. A few years ago, one alumnus considered the problem so bad that he urged other alumni to stop donating. I attended Tech (that’s what we called it) for a year and a half in the 1970s. I didn’t think cheating was a problem then. Now it is.
A recent article in the Times Higher Education Supplement by Phil Baty praised Caltech’s “honor system”, which includes trusting students not to cheat on exams. A Caltech professor of biology named Markus Meister told Baty that “cheats simply cannot prosper in an environment that includes such small-group teaching and close collaboration with colleagues because they would rapidly be exposed.” That strikes me as naive. How convenient for Meister that there is no need to test his theory — it must be true (“cheats simply cannot prosper”).
... There is a small and growing population of students at Caltech [who] are systematically cheating, and the Caltech administration is aware of it but refuses to do anything about it. I suspect the problem began when Caltech started advertising its ‘Honor Code’ to prospective high school students in the 90′s, which lead to self-selection of students who were willing to bend the rules. ...
The comment below is consistent with my experiences at Caltech in the 80s. We took the honor code very seriously ...
Bill Mitchell Says:See also Vernon Smith at Caltech.
February 19th, 2014 at 3:29 pm
The honor system appeared to work when I was there. Decades later, Caltech remains one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. As the school’s president put it to incoming students at our orientation, “we will challenge not just your mental limits, but your physical limits,” meaning sleep deprivation. The intensity was incredible. Exhausting, but rewired me to think better.
But it does depend upon the student culture. If cheating takes root, an honor system can’t work. I would hate to see them lose a well-earned reputation by not putting a lid on cheating, if it is a growing problem.
Bill Mitchell Says:
February 19th, 2014 at 3:53 pm
Actually I just realized the honor system was likely working in the 1980s, deducible from two facts: most courses there were still being graded on a C curve, and individual student scores in applied math and electrical engineering tests often averaged below 70%, with wide variance.
If cheating were rampant at that time, this seemingly could not have occurred. The bell-curve grading would have driven competition among cheaters, which would either have driven scores up, or driven variance down, or both. That doesn’t seem to have happened.
I have no idea if any of that is still true today.