The Skinny Professor sent his regular listserv out this weekend with lots of very interesting reading. But one reading in particular caught my eye. Fast Company presented an article on some research conducted by IBM on CEO/Leaders opinions on the most important leadership qualities in the next five years.
The second most important leadership quality? Integrity.
And it is going to become more important. Why? Because integrity is becoming less common in our society. This is especially noticable at the university level. In 2007, Maclean’s magazine reported on the “great university cheating scandal“, with over 50% of students voluntarily reporting that they had cheated at university. Cheating is most rampant in medical schools, law schools, engineering schools and business schools.
Why is this happening? There are many reasons. Increased competition for places in professional schools, increased parental pressure on students to get into professional schools, students wanting to do less work for higher grades. But my belief is that there has been a “normalization” of cheating. Students think that “everyone does it”, so why shouldn’t they. They will be at a disadvantage if they don’t cheat. And schools have become more lax in enforcement of academic integrity rules.
So our students have learned that they will get ahead if they cheat. And once they develop these habits, they are hard to unlearn.
Our universities are struggling to play catch up. Fighting ever more sophisticated cheating technology, increasing beliefs in “rights” which limits the measures that they can take to fight cheating, and increasing difficulty imposing punishments due to legal restrictions and issues of due process.
I don’t know the solution to the cheating epidemic. But I believe the first step is to more aggressively discuss the consequences of cheating in the long-term for our society and to more consistently manage academic honesty in the environment. I have some self-interest in all of this. After all, this generation of university students are the ones who will be managing my pension. I’m sowing the seeds of my own self-destruction.