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Cheating season

Looks like the first-years aren’t the only ones taking shortcuts. A tipster forwarded us an e-mail from a nameless, irate Music Hum teacher, threatening dire consequences for the miscreant who swiped a pile of final papers. Bwog cowers on your behalf, paper-thief. Here’s the e-mail:

jjj“Dear all–

“I apologize that there has been a delay in submitting final grades for graduating seniors, and that there may be an extended delay in submitting final grades for all other students.  This delay is due to an incident involving theft of a handful of final papers from my mailbox, and for reasons that I am not at liberty to disclose, it is now clear that these papers were stolen by a student from our class, presumably for his or her own benefit.  Though I have already communicated with several of you whose papers were stolen, the majority of you know nothing about this.  One of you, however, knows exactly what I am talking about.

I regard this as a very serious offense.  It involves not only theft of personal property–papers belonging to individual students–but almost surely plagiarism.  I will absolutely get to the bottom of this, no matter how long it takes to resolve.  I have already contacted the Music Humanities Chair about the incident, and we are about to assemble a team of administrators to investigate the matter thoroughly.

Final grades for seniors will be submitted shortly, and again, grades for everyone else may be delayed for a while.  All grades, however, including grades for seniors, are to be considered provisional.  This means that any student’s grade is subject to change pending the outcome of this investigation, and my authority to do so has just been reconfirmed by the administration.

The student who is responsible for the theft of these papers will want to consider very carefully what I am now offering, for it is both simple and significant: as I already alluded to, certain matters have come to my attention that leaves no doubt in my mind that it is not only a student from our class that is responsible for the theft, but that the identity of the particular student will soon be very clear.  I am offering you the rare opportunity to have a private conversation with me about your role in this before I bring all of my information to a disciplinary committee.  I myself have served on various disciplinary committees for academic dishonesty at Columbia, and have twice chaired the adjudicating proceedings.  I have personally witnessed students receiving very harsh punishments, including expulsion from the University, for matters less serious than this incident.  I strongly encourage you to heed what I am saying here.

All but one of you can safely ignore all of this as it doesn’t concern you.  That said, I regret having to send such a disturbing mass e-mail to a class that I genuinely like and respect a great deal.  While this is a very serious matter, I also don’t want to end on such a negative note: I remain happy and feel fortunate to have spent the semester with you in class, and the experience was rewarding for me overall.  Congratulations again to the graduating seniors, and best of luck to everyone.”

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41 Comments

  • asdf says:

    @asdf I don’t know who’s worse, the person who stole the papers, or the idiot who e-mailed this to the bwog. That e-mail was not intended to be viewed by all of Columbia. As someone who was in that class, the professor was very gracious and cut us a lot of slack on the paper. For this to be posted just sickens me.

    1. ;lkj says:

      @;lkj Agreed. I’ll out the likely “tipster”- Avi Zenilman was in that class. The problem with putting this e-mail up on bwog is that it further destroys the trust the professor had in the class and will have in future students. He’s a really nice guy, and to have his e-mail posted like this isn’t going to make the situation any better.

      1. Avi Zenilman says:

        @Avi Zenilman ;lkj–I was not the “tipster.” Somebody else (it’s not my place to mentioned) forwarded the bwgossip alias and mentioned that I was in the class–one of the bwog editors then asked if I knew anything about it. I was not responsible for the post, nor have I been responsible for any of the content on the site in the past three months.

  • Maybe bwog says:

    @Maybe bwog stole them to give itself a story. zing!

  • haha... says:

    @haha... A new precedent has been set, any email written may be up on the bwog… be careful what you write!

    1. whatever says:

      @whatever anything you write as an e-mail can end up in a public forum.

      1. of course... says:

        @of course... Of course, I know that, but it is now becoming more common practice than it was before.

      2. depends says:

        @depends on whether or not it has an attached disclaimer. could be bad if you post an email publicly if it was accompanied by one of those confidentiality notices…

        1. Well says:

          @Well Those confidentiality notices don’t mean much– they’re only there as some sort of tip of the hat to FERPA, in some case where, say, a professor intends to e-mail Jane to tell her she’s failing, but instead he sends it to John. I think as long as you were an intentional recipient of the e-mail, you’re free to share it.

  • umm... says:

    @umm... how’s he know he didn’t just lose the papers?

    1. Mebbe says:

      @Mebbe Maybe he found them posted online somewhere. What exactly do you with stolen final papers anyway?

    2. I'm Barry Scott! says:

      @I'm Barry Scott! A few possibilities. Perhaps he noticed several people’s papers hadn’t been turned in, and when he e-mailed the students, they all said, “I turned it in on time” and then he got suspicious.

      And the person who submit this to the Bwog has every right. When there are douchebags who feel the need to cheat, it’s best that students be aware they exist.

  • err says:

    @err *do you do with

  • Which Prof? says:

    @Which Prof? Come on, give it up, which Music Hum class was this?

  • maybe says:

    @maybe i’m missing something, but i’m unsure why someone would steal a stack of papers, more specifically how that would benefit someone’s grade unless he had plagiarized off of one of the papers that he stole and did so to keep it from being discovered. This seems unlikely, though, because another copy of the papers could easily be produced. any ideas?

    1. Will says:

      @Will He could have stolen the papers to get some extra time for the paper by claiming his was one of the ones stolen. Makes sense to me. It’s still pretty dumb, but at least it’s a motive.

  • asdf says:

    @asdf The papers required research using internet sources and database sources. The person probably stole the paper for sources.

  • keb says:

    @keb Is music hum really difficult enough where you need to cheat? I mean come up, save the effort for a more important class if you are going to go through the trouble.

  • epb says:

    @epb Obviously, the real story here is that someone felt it necessary to cheat in music hum, the easiest class in the Core.

  • me says:

    @me That actually makes a lot of sense. Although there are so many other ways to get extra time for the paper – including my favorite, talking to the prof. and getting a legitimate extension!!!

  • oh well... says:

    @oh well... I guess all those ad hominem attacks on 2010’s morals were a bit unfounded. It seems to be a Columbia wide.

  • yup says:

    @yup After my ode final, a number of Asian kids got together in the middle of the room & took advantage of the chaos of everyone turning in & quickly scribbled down each other’s answers (the test was short-answer no partial credit). Fuckers. It was so blatant.

    1. jack ass says:

      @jack ass As if mentioning their race in anyway has to with whether or not they cheated. unless you are just expressing your rascist leanings.

      1. whatever says:

        @whatever Maybe #20 is racist, but just wanted to point out that it was an inter-group thing. Like people always saying that those jocks were cheating. Or those greeks were sharing tests. I think they are just pointing out that it was a cohesive group of individuals that are segregated somehow.

        On a similar note, there was a class I took that had 2 sections back to back. In the 10 minutes between classes, a group of arab students from the 1st section would tell a group of arab students in the second section what to look for on the test in arabic. This was done right in front of the professor since he didn’t know arabic.

  • Daaaaaamn says:

    @Daaaaaamn I’d hate to be the idiot who cheated. Reading that email would make me shit my pants a thousand times over!

    Also, I love how Columbia can’t stay out of trouble, even after finals have already ended. I wonder what will happen next?!?!?!

  • whatever says:

    @whatever Maybe the thief stole the papers to sell them on-line. It happens. Then he/she would be a fencer and not a cheater.

    To post #19, I don’t think that this is Columbia wide. I think it is human-wide. Any time you assemble a diverse cross-section of people, you are bound to get some douchebags.

  • Major in Comp Sci says:

    @Major in Comp Sci where cheating is officially sanctioned.

    1. mike says:

      @mike what? I majored in comp sci and saw less cheating in my CS classes than in any other class.

      One CS teacher did tell us that CS has the highest percentage of cheaters caught because professors tend to write software to detect similarities in submissions.

  • how does says:

    @how does posting the e-mail harm the professor? it’s not like it’s his fault, and he sounds perfectly reasonable and understandably angry in the e-mail. if anything, it’s a good example of a professor knowing what to do when cheating occurs.

  • ;lkj says:

    @;lkj Sorry to wrongly accuse you, Avi. It was the first thing that crossed my mind when I saw the post.

    To 28, I agree- it’s not the professor’s fault, and he did know what to do when someone cheated. But, I really think that this professor would not be happy to see his e-mail on this site, and I think posting a private e-mail to a class on bwog is a betrayal of trust.

  • word says:

    @word That is a very well written email.

  • i think posting says:

    @i think posting the e-mail is the right thing. here’s why. usually cheating on this campus goes unpunished and that’s a shame. public shame for the thief is a good start.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Good point. I think it would have been preferable to ask permission before posting the email, but you’re right that it’s too easy for students to get away with cheating at Columbia (perhaps because the university doesn’t want to have to deal with frequent scandals and negative PR fallout like with Fox 5 News reporting on the compromised Lit Hum exam). I remember in particular that in one of my physics classes, there was a group of engineers who always sat in the back of the room copying one another’s problem sets on the days they were due. The problem sets counted for a good portion of our grade. Then, when the fire alarm went off while we were taking the midterm, the professor decided to turn the exam into a take-home and had everyone on their honor not to work with others and not to spend more than an hour and a half doing it. Naturally, a bunch of the problem set-copying engineers cheated, and we knew it. When the results came in, the professor told us all how pleased he was with the class because we had all done so well, and the average score was something that was obviously way too high for that course. This messed up the curve for everyone else and caused those who didn’t cheat to get lower marks, which is problematic if one is applying to graduate school and needs the best-looking transcript possible. A friend in the class tried talking to the professor about the widespread cheating, but the prof either didn’t believe her or was simply unwilling to do anything about it. I wonder now if the professor knew and just didn’t care, since the suspiciously high average on that midterm should have been a tipoff. Maybe there’s some procedural crap in place at Columbia making it too much of a hassle to report cheating for some professors to want to be bothered. I don’t really know.

      Anyway, sorry… I don’t mean to promote negative stereotypes about engineering students by calling their whole group cheaters. :p

  • excuse me??? says:

    @excuse me??? where is the coverage on MATTHEW FOX?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    1. Yeah says:

      @Yeah I heard he was actually amazing…why hasn’t his speech (or at least a synopsis) been posted?

  • ...... says:

    @...... i’m curious about how the professor is so confident he/she will “absolutely get to the bottom of this”. unless there’s camera footage of the thief or multiple eyewitness accounts–both of which are unlikely because they would have immediately resolved the situation–it seems like they’ll never be able to prove anything, and the thief can continue denying everything.

    coming from a completely neutral perspective, this seems like a quite clever way to foil professors refusing to give extensions. whenever you’re asked to submit a paper in a mailbox, it’s trivial to swipe them all, and no one will ever catch you. for a bit more risk, you can swipe a bunch of final exam blue books provided that the professor has left. sure beats pulling the fire alarm.

  • impressed says:

    @impressed 1. This is such a well written e-mail, seriously. Kudos to the prof.
    2. Why do people think that they can get away with this stuff?
    3. Doesn’t everyone know by now that if you’re going to plagiarize, at least try to do it from another section?

    1. not impressed says:

      @not impressed why can’t they get away with this stuff?

      what sort of evidence could possibly narrow down the suspects to one individual soon, but not now? my guess is alibis, but why can’t the thief also have a great alibi corroborated by his friends?

  • what? says:

    @what? Seriously, what do you mean that cheating is ok in comp sci?
    Also, am I the only one bothered by people continuing to write on a test until the LAST POSSIBLE MOMENT? I mean, the professor said “pencils down,” I’m turning in my test, what makes you so special?

    1. CS Major says:

      @CS Major True, I’ve never really heard of or seen anyone cheating. It’s not like the curriculum is that intense. (Or, for that matter, like anybody gets a bad grade in even the hardest classes…)

      1. CS Major Too says:

        @CS Major Too Depends what you call a bad grade. I think it’s an unwritten rule that no one will ever give out a ‘D’ in any class for majors, but I’ve definitely gotten a C in a CS class.

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