Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Cheaters Without Cameras

The stair machine must be the most boring exercise ever. The TVs installed in them do not help much unless sports is on. Typically I flip through the channels looking for the least inane programming. Today one of those channels that did not exist when I was growing had a show on about how casinos deter and detect cheating among gamblers and casino workers. The security people are up in the ceiling watching monitors. Those security people come and go by separate entrances and do not socialize with the other casino workers. Makes sense. If you do not know the people you are more likely to be objective. Temptation to cut someone some slack when they steal from the casino is greatly reduced. (I must admit the idea of casinos being cheated by others is a little hard to swallow.)

So what about law school cheating. There are many ways it occurs:
1. Favoring or disfavoring students.
2. Not honestly evaluating scholarship for tenure and promotion purposes.
3. Not honestly reviewing the teaching of tenure candidates.
4. Being influenced in hiring because there are friends or spouses involved or the candidates attended a specific set of schools.

My law school has done all that can be done with respect to number 1. Grading is anonymous and professors are not permitted to teach relatives or the equivalent. The last part of this was not always true and for many years the School dealt with the discomfort of parents teaching their children.

My school and I suspect most others have done miserably with respect to cheating in forms 2-4. The problem is that there is no "security staff" that observes without being influenced by personal connections. This is not to say the personality is irrelevant but scholarship, teaching, and hiring should be independent of personal connections. This would be the law school version of the cameras.

Could law schools get a little closer to the ideal. Suppose all articles from a group of schools were submitted to a panel of scholars. Each piece would be anonymous and the evaluators would assess several pieces and each piece would be reviewed by several scholars. A ranking would be provided to the schools involved as well as an absolute score. Teaching is a bit harder partly because the occasional pre-announced class visitation is so full of holes as a valid form of evaluation. It is close to silly because virtually anyone can do a decent job for a few days and faculty visitors would rather do the stair machine than actually put in writing anything that is negative.

One big step in hiring is not to hire into a specific department anyone who is closely related to a current faculty member. That would reduce some of the temptation. When the hiring of the trailing spouse is in a different department, it should occur only after an national search and an audit of the search procedure.

Law schools are not casinos but are affected by cheaters. They are way behind casinos in efforts to curb cheating. Maybe they just do not want to.


Anonymous said...

I've gotten better grades than I deserve in a few courses at UF Law because of a friendly relationship with the professor. I've also had professors promise that they are going to give x Bs x B+, etc. A common way of getting around the anon grading is haggling. My friend's dad is a prof at Levin; and once grades are released, he has a flood of students stop by his office to "negotiate" with him.

All I'm saying is that there is plenty of gaming the objective grading system that we supposedly have. I respect the professors that actually stick to the blind system and don't budge, but I know plenty that have a reputation for playing favorites and bending the rules.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Good point and I'd add that the negotiators are not evenly distributed. The same students do it over and over again. I would not call it a flood. Of a class of 100, I might have 10 and some of those legitimately want to know how the did. Nevertheless,it is a good argument for having grade changes reviewed by a separate committee.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you allow negotiations over grades. At every school I have been associated with, grade changes were prohibited except in the case of purely administrative or computational error (e.g., one score was on the grade sheet, but it was transferred incorrectly when the grades were recorded) and even those types of grade changes could only be made by the associate dean upon a petition of the professor. Although there may be all sorts of instances in which a professor failed to consider a particular argument in an exam, it would be utterly unfair to take those into account without going through the same exercise on every single other exam. The result of that, of course, would be to demonstrate that such errors are either de minimis or are evenly distributed in the class, thus not affecting the grading in a curved class (moreover, it would require grading the exams twice (or more)). If my experience is representative, UF is way out of the national norm and way overdue for a policy change.

Anonymous said...

It is the same where I have taught. Grades cannot be changed unless there was a mistake in adding up the points.Students know this, and it eliminates attempts to haggle.

Anonymous said...

UF Law has the same policy that grades can only be changed if there is a grading error, but rumor has it that that professors change grades after "negotiating" with students under the guise of "administrative" grading errors.

I actually had a grade changed by a professor, but it was due to a legitimate grading error by a tenured professor who recently left UF law.

Incidentally, the whole incident was a great example of law professor elitism. The professor decided to use a multiple choice exam under the guise that it would be a more realistic of the MPRE. Of course, the professor had obviously never seen an MPRE exam or practice MPRE exam as the multiple choice questions were nothing like MPRE questions. The questions were sloppily written, with many of the questions have multiple "joke" answers that were clearly wrong, leaving only two legitimate answers.* The problem with poorly written questions, of course, is that causes the grade distribution to bunch, which isn't really acceptable when there is a mandatory curve. Moreover, the professor (or his secretary) failed to even double check the multiple choice scantrons for accuracy. My scantron was incorrectly graded, which affected my overall grade.

While I understand that some people may say that professors do not have the duty to double check scantrons, this particular professor also had a policy that students could not see their exams unless they had worse than a B(which is probably 20% of the class). Moreover, the professor also had an unofficial policy of never being in his office during his official office hours. It took me a month between initial contact and my meeting with him, with multiple e-mails sent his way, etc.

I "fortunately" had a B-, which meant that I was able to see my exam, and discover the error. Given the tight grading curve(basically every missed question resulted in a lower grade), and the fact that the professor had failed to double check scantrons, I would not be surprised if other students received lower grades than they should have. But they would never know, given the professor's policies. I actually heard from other students that they wanted to see the professor to discuss their exams, but were never able to do so because he was so unavailable. Keep in mind the professor was still on campus that semester.

When I found out the professor was going to be visiting at other schools last year, and subsequently left this year, I have to admit I wasn't too disappointed.

I felt the whole example was a perfect example of elitism. The teacher didn't want to grade essay exams; didn't bother spending the time to write well written multiple choice exams; didn't even bother double checking scantrons, an exercise that he could have assigned his secretary or done himself in the course of 5 hours or less; and to cap it off, may it almost impossible to meet with him.

* I have no problems with multiple choice questions, but I do think the questions should be well written. A poorly written multiple choice exam, one with too many ambiguities in the questions, and without the possibility of explanations as was the case with this exam, is unfair to the prepared students because it puts them on equal footing on with the less prepared students. For instance, if a question has 4 answer choices, but 2 that are obviously wrong, and with 2 that nearly equally plausible, then the prepared student and unprepared student are on nearly equal footing.

Anonymous said...

Being lazy and flaky doesn't necessarily equate with "elitism." An overuse of that term makes me feel like I'm listening to right-wing radio.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

What a great comment!, Yes the correlation between being an elitist and being "lazy and flaky" is far from 100%. On law faculties though I have found the correlation is pretty tight. Those with a sense of entitlement seem to think the deserve the same as those working hard.

Sandy said...

Such a great article it was which The stair machine must be the most boring exercise ever. The TVs installed in them do not help much unless sports is on. Typically I flip through the channels looking for the least inane programming. Thanks for sharing this article.

sally said...

My daughter took an Anatomy class this pass grading period. The first test she took she didnt study for it and she got one question wrong while most of the class failed. Then all the test after her score was F and the final grade was F. She saw the final scores after the test and saw the answers on the scan tron and they didn't look like her answers. We are suspecting cheating somewhere. While hard to prove I believe that my daughter should be given the chance to re take these tests with witnesses while they are being graded and administered. We strongly feel someone is cheating. My daughter was helping other students who passed the test. She said each time she saw the test she knew those answers weren't hers. I need some advise as what to do. WHen she asked her teacher about this she just replied"everybody can't be teachers".