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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Reply To J. Stone Laraway II

This is a reply to the nonsense of J. Stone Laraway II. I’ve never met him but I’ve read about him, how could one miss reading about him? The antics over the summer, and the Globe coverage of the whole sordid affair, the on going and (to me at least) totally mysterious Byzantine struggles he has undergone-is still undergoing for all I know-with the student senate. And now the latest turn in the saga is the formation of the AICC, the Orwellian sounding, Academic Integrity Committee Club. Formation of which, in case we failed to notice, is a “monumental event” it is left for us to infer for whom (But is it really as ‘monumental’ as the recent formation of the Bhakti Yoga Club?) For those students who have been too busy to notice, Mr. Laraway II, or Stone as I’m sure his friends call him, is concerned about cheating. And the AICC, presumably, is going to bring about a brave new world of integrity, honor, and for all I know, true grit as well. Stone probably feels he has been much maligned in the press and else where, and certainly this latest turn-at what is beginning to look increasingly like self-promotion-cries out for satire, but I am not going to provide it, if only because, for me at least, Stone’s very name is satire enough. However, Iwould like to say something on the subject dearest to Stone’s heart, (other than seeing himself in print) and that is cheating.

In his latest diatribe Stone provides some statistics on cheating-the first I’ve seen produced in the Mass Media since this topic surfaced last summer-these Stone rightly describes as “staggering and hard to digest” but that is because, presented without context, they are completely meaningless. It is a surprise that a student from the College of Management failed to realize that presented out of context the percentages given would have absolutely no meaning. But let us for the sake of argument accept that the figures represent what Stone contends they do, that cheating is widespread and what’s worse is secretly acknowledged to be so by faculty and administrators alike-but neither body is sufficiently exercised about it to take the necessary steps to stamp out what Stone seems to think is a veritable contagion, hence the need for the AICC and Stone its “founder and President”.

My opinion is that, if colleges are concerned about cheating then they ought to stop encouraging it. The motivation for cheating seems straight forward enough. Cheating, on the whole, is a perfectly rational response to conditions imposed upon students by faculty and administrators. There is one view of education, not mentioned by Stone, that views education as being about self-enrichment. At other schools where testing and GPAs are stressed this ideal may not register too much on the minds of students, and when it isn’t being stressed, why should it register? When passing the test or getting the grade is of greater value and takes precedence over things like self-enrichment then cheating will be one predictable consequence. In fact, the only explanation for cheating assuming, as Stone does, that (1) cheating is widespread, and (2) students are rational beings motivated out of a concern for their well being, then it follows that cheating is being actively encouraged by faculty and administrators, otherwise it wouldn’t flourish. In fact, the relation between education and student cheating is more like the following: the more impoverished the education, the more cheating there will be. This relation is the exact inverse of the one suggested by Stone, and those others, who contend that cheating is widespread; and then place the blame on a lazy or mendacious student body, rather on where it really belongs, with the institutional forces that encourage it. The point can be made a different way. It is the merest truism about the nature of institutions and how people behave in them that people’s behavior is largely dictated by the conditions imposed upon them by the nature of the institution. So, if a certain behavior is widespread in an institution it follows that the behavior is a response to demands imposed by the institution itself.

Competitive assessment is, in part, a response of faculty and administrators to the demands made by a society that demands conformity and obedience from its citizens, especially its most educated citizens. One way to ensure conformity is to force people to compete with one another, and education, from high school onwards, is, for the most part, a competition to see who can perform the best. Under this system, education is not self-enrichment, but something that is necessarily endured as the only way to a rosy economic future. UMB is certainly not immune from such influences. However, I feel that UMB has set itself apart with its emphases on teaching over competitive assessment. This emphasis is not accidental, and is a result of faculty efforts that go back to the formation of the campus as well as to the orientation provided by an older, and largely working class, student body. It is an emphasis that is currently under threat of eradication-as noted in these pages in many editorials and student commentaries-by an administration intent on transforming UMB into a more attractive option for younger and wealthier students. The likely result will transform UMB into what other colleges have become, a mere extension of high school in both ethos and curricula. The threat also comes from people like Stone. Ironically, in his noisy and puffed up concern over academic excellence his real intent, I suspect, is to turn UMB into a mere testing center. As one of his flyers banally declaims, ‘if you didn’t earn it then you don’t deserve it’, the new criteria for excellence, closely monitored by a watchful AICC, transformed from personal enrichment and self-discovery into passing the test and making the grade.

So finally, I urge students and faculty alike to resist the efforts of our administration and the creepy big brother threats of people like Stone. After all, it would be a shame if UMB was disgraced to the level of a BU or some such dreary place.

Adam Rossi, CAS 2004