You've done well in your college classes and established a solid grade point average. You've started working a few extra hours to help cover your rising bills, joined a few extracurricular programs that will look good on your résumé and are feeling overextended and overworked.
Your degree is in engineering, so your literature class doesn't seem that relevant. And studying hard for the final will cut into your study time for your more difficult engineering classes. You find out that an advance copy of the lit final is available for sale from a friend of a friend. No one is hurt by that, so surely it won't hurt anything if you buy a copy and save a little time. You don't have anything to lose. Or do you?
Much to lose
In 2005 a student cheated on a "non-core" class at the University of California Berkeley and found out he had a lot to lose. In his own words: "I thought I needed a bit of an advantage in order to get through the final exam and leave the course with a good grade, and I believed that I could get away with it...
"Instead, my plans backfired. After being caught and confronted (which was the instructor's responsibility), I was placed on academic probation and required to write this essay. In ways, I feel very fortunate, since my probation will end provided I maintain a clean record and honest academic performance in the future.
"However, I also feel ashamed because I behaved dishonestly and have given my instructors and the administration the impression that I am unethical. Also, I have damaged my own academic record and must work hard in order to redeem myself and prove my honesty as a student" ("The Causes and Consequences of Cheating," The Daily Californian, May 6, 2005).
The student went on to explain that universities often take a strict stance on cheating, with punishments ranging from an F in the course to expulsion from school, possibly delaying or ruining one's academic career or eventual professional career.
The Bible repeatedly instructs us to maintain complete truthfulness and avoid dishonest gain. Another principle to remember is that a good name and reputation are very precious and should be guarded carefully. As Proverbs 22:1 says, "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches."
Ecclesiastes 10:1 graphically portrays the violation of this principle: "Dead flies putrefy the perfumer's ointment, and cause it to give off a foul odor; so does a little folly to one respected for wisdom and honor."
Once your good name is associated with something that stinks, it takes a lot of hard work to get rid of the smell. I learned many years ago that the odor of a skunk's spray is very hard to eradicate. Cheating is like playing with a frightened skunk, exposing your good name to the line of fire.
Indiscretions don't always disappear
You might think that a college indiscretion would get buried in the past. However, an article from the student paper of the University of Oregon points out that while student conduct records are normally sealed, those seeking acceptance to graduate school or the American Bar Association generally sign waivers that allow for background checks—including examination of student conduct records.
It goes on to say that even cheating that isn't caught has negative consequences. When someone cheats, he (or she) cheapens the huge investment he's made in his education—because he hasn't really learned. In addition, it reflects on the whole university and cheapens each student's ability to market himself because word may spread that graduates from that institution don't have the knowledge or skills they're supposed to have.
According to a poll conducted by the Josephson Institute for Ethics in December 2008, cheating has become widespread in the United States.
The poll focused on lying, stealing and cheating at 100 randomly selected high schools and found that 64 percent of students said they cheated on a test at least once last year. More than half of that group (38 percent of the total) said they had cheated two or more times last year (Chelsea Keenan, "Survey Reveals Prevalence of Cheating Among High School Students," The Independent Florida Alligator, Dec. 2, 2008).
Seeds are sown early
Yet cheating doesn't normally start in college or high school. As Tyler, Texas, elementary administrator and teacher Walter Perez states: "I have observed that many times the first cheating is done at an early age by having their older siblings or parents do their assignments. Somebody told me that the people who drove the [U.S.] economy into the ground had two things in common—greed and everybody attended kindergarten. No matter what business school they attended, along the way they became convinced that cheating was okay."
His point was that what begins in elementary school continues through a person's life. Linda Behar-Horenstein, a University of Florida professor from the College of Education's Department of Educational Administration and Policy, agrees. She said, "If kids are actively cheating in high school, it won't stop in college. It's an ethical and moral dilemma."
From cheating on tests it moves into cheating on résumés—even in the academic world. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology online edition of The Tech posted a May 4, 2007, story ("Marilee Jones Did Receive Degree") about a former MIT admissions dean who admitted lying about her academic credentials.
The article states that MIT asked Jones to resign because she falsely claimed three degrees she didn't have. Apparently she went to a smaller, lesser-known college and did not want to list that one when she first applied for a job at MIT in 1979.
David Callahan, in his 2004 book The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, says that people begin to excuse their own cheating by saying "everyone else is doing it." He describes a society that cheats at school, at work, in amateur and professional sports, on taxes, in the news media and in the medical profession.
He describes attorneys cheating to get into the best schools and later padding their hours to stay competitive with colleagues. He says people are encouraged to cheat in a competitive society where rich cheaters are given only a slap on the wrist if they've increased profits for their company.
Coping in an untruthful world
How does a vertical thinking person cope with feelings that he or she will never get ahead in a crooked world? That was the cry of a famous poet thousands of years ago. In Psalm 73:3 Asaph said, "I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." He described them as living what appeared to be "the good life" while he struggled. He said it was very painful for him until he got his mind focused on God and the long term.
In verse 17 he said, "Then I understood their end." He pointed out that the wicked are "set...in slippery places" and "cast...down to destruction" (verse 18) while those who trust in and are faithful to God will be guided by God and afterward will be received by Him with honor (verse 24).
Many today seem to think honesty and integrity are little things that don't matter. But they matter to God. Jesus said, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much" (Luke 16:10).
Like so many other areas of life, it comes down to what you value. Is it more important to you to get ahead for a short time in this temporary physical existence—or to receive the lasting riches of eternal life? The apostle Paul illustrated this point by contrasting the efforts an athlete expends to win a crown of braided tree branches with the effort we should expend to be awarded a reward that is eternal (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
Look at things from a higher and more long-range perspective. Don't be swept up with the stink of a culture chasing short-term gratification. Resist the urge to take shortcuts to gain a quick but false advantage in life—whether it's with schoolwork or in any other area of life. Work to be honest and faithful in the smallest areas of life, and God will look out for you now as well as reward your honesty and integrity with eternal blessings. VT