NYU Professor Learns It Doesn’t Pay to Catch Cheating Students

Do you feel lucky, punk?

Prof.  recently won tenure at the NYU Stern School of Business, where he teaches in the information systems department. With this added layer of protection, Dr. Ipeirotis decided to dig a little deeper into which of his students might be plagiarizing their assignments. He ran their work through Turnitin, which compares student papers against hundreds of millions of previous assignments, academic journals and the like.  By the end of the semester 22 students out of a class of 108 admitted to cheating and several were expelled from his class.

It was a moral victory, to be sure, but rather than simply celebrating, Dr. Ipeirotis did what anyone with a serious engineering bent would, he analyzed the cost of catching these perpetrators. In all, he calculated, it took 45 hours to catch and coax confessions out of these students. With one in five students a convicted plagarist, classes became quite awkward. At the end of the year Dr. Ipeirotis saw his score from student evaluations drop from above to below average, which meant that despite getting tenure, he received his lowest salary increase ever.

In the future, he says, he won’t be chasing down cheaters. Rather than assign traditional essays and reports, he hopes to focus on assignments that don’t lend themselves to cheating, like having students create websites and measure traffic. “In other words, my theory is: Cheating (on a systematic level) happens because students try to get an edge over their peers/competitors. Even top-notch students cheat, in order to ensure a perfect grade. Fighting cheating is not something that professors can do well in the long run, and it is counterproductive by itself. By channeling this competitive energy into creative activities, in which you cannot cheat, everyone is better off.”