Cheating scandal snares nearly half of IU dental class
Students cracked password to see test items early
May 8, 2007
Nearly half the students in the Indiana University School of Dentistry's second-year class have been disciplined for their roles in a cheating scandal in which students broke into password-protected files to view exam material before tests.
The school's Faculty Council voted Friday to dismiss nine of the students, suspend 16 for periods ranging from three to 24 months and issue letters of reprimand to 21 students for violating the school's professional conduct code. The class has 95 students.
Cheating students took advantage of e-mails that professors sent a few days before tests, administrators said. Those messages contained password-protected images, such as X-rays, that were part of the exams.
Typically, on the day of a test, the professor would tell students the password so they could open the e-mail, look at the images and answer any relevant questions.
But in a number of cases, some students determined the password in advance and shared that information with others, said Dr. Lawrence Goldblatt, dean of the dentistry school.
"Then they used the password to gain an unauthorized advantage over their classmates," Goldblatt said.
Some of the students who illegally obtained the passwords did so by using commercial code-cracking software, he said. Others learned previous passwords and tried variations of those to gain access.
The reprimanded students knew of their classmates' actions but did not report them, a violation of the school's honor code, Goldblatt said.
Another student brought the cheating to the attention of school officials in late February. The school then conducted a two-month investigation that resulted in Friday's decisions, which the students have five days to appeal.
Indiana University is the third dentistry school to weather a recent cheating incident.
Last year, University of Nevada-Las Vegas students obtained a faculty member's electronic password and used it to illegally approve patient care. Students at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey illicitly exchanged credits for clinical experiences required as part of their education.
Academic integrity experts say dental students, who spend four years in school, are no different from others when it comes to honesty.
"I see this as being a widespread problem, not just in dentistry," said Dr. Anne Koerber, an associate professor of dentistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has written about the ethics of dental education.
"When you have persons in high places who clearly lie about what's happening with weapons of mass destruction, or CEOs who lie about where the money is going, I think the general public gets the idea that anything that makes money is what's right."
Tim Dodd, executive director for Duke University's Center for Academic Integrity, said it's not necessarily that students today cheat more, just that there's less tolerance for such dishonesty.
New technologies also offer new cheating opportunities, he added.
But "educators will lose the arms race if they battle technology with technology," Dodd said. "We've got to reform the conscience."
At IU, Goldblatt said the dental school has beefed up electronic security to prevent a recurrence.
The 21 students who received reprimands and the seven who received three-month suspensions likely will graduate with their class. The nine students with one- or two-year suspensions may graduate a year or two later, Goldblatt said.
If would-be dentists with a history of an academic disciplinary action or other infraction apply for licensure in the state of Indiana, the Board of Dentistry might ask them to appear personally to explain the circumstances behind the incident, said Shelly Mazo, the board's director.
Each year, about five people out of the approximately 120 who apply for licensure are asked to appear before the board, she said.
Infractions involving cheating are pretty rare.
"For the most part, dentists are pretty good practitioners," she said. "It's an honored and trusted profession."
Still, in June, the American Dental Association will sponsor a symposium to help devise new ways for dental schools to teach ethics, said Karen Hart, director of the association's Council on Dental Education and Licensure.
Indiana University School of Dentistry officials are among those invited.
Ethics is a part of the students' education from Day One, Goldblatt said.
"We need to be able to demonstrate that we will make decisions in the best interest of our patients," he said. "Patients and the public need to trust that their professional health-care provider will do the right thing unsupervised." http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007705080400
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