Dartmouth cheating scandal exposes the real problem

Plus, America's political prisoners, or dangerous felons?

Dartmouth College’s medical school dropped all cheating charges against students it accused of accessing unsanctioned material during online exams. What in April was considered “infallible data” proving cheating, is now suspect and unusable.

The school used an online learning provider to conduct exams using an application on students’ computers and other online devices. It used an application called Canvas to store and monitor course materials. If Canvas is used during exam time, it notes if a student, for example, consults a PowerPoint presentation, or other course material that cannot be used during tests.

Students have claimed that “their laptops, phones, and tablets routinely ping Canvas even when they are not using it,” meaning that the records the school was using to prove cheating simply indicated random connections.

So it appears that the students may have been right and the school was wrong, because they don’t know the nuances of the technology they deploy. That being said, I give them a pass, because we’re in the middle of a pandemic. My own grade school kids suffered when teachers and administrators in one of the most well-funded districts in Georgia couldn’t figure out Microsoft Teams. We all struggle.

It’s not the possible cheating scandal that bothers me; it’s the school’s reaction to students making their case on social media. Don’t get me wrong: If a medical student cheated on an exam to get to their position, I don’t want that person as MY doctor. Unfortunately, the headline in the Boston Globe buries the lede here unless you’ve been following the story a while.

I don’t care how “vigorous” a medical student, or a structural engineer, or (as David Thornton knows) a professional pilot maintains their innocence. If they cheated on an exam, I don’t want them practicing in their intended profession. Since we can’t trust politicians, educators, police, and sometimes even military leaders and top medical advisors, we at least should be able to trust people in whose hands we place our lives. We should be able to trust buildings and flying in airplanes.

For example, I wouldn’t fly on any airline that hires pilots from Pakistan.

To paraphrase George Carlin, somewhere, practicing medicine, is the world’s worst doctor; and worse than that, someone has an appointment to see him tomorrow. For a medical school to endorse cheating on exams is not simply an “honor code violation.” It’s people’s lives. I think I’ve beaten that horse to death, so I’ll move on.

I don’t think Dartmouth was scared of letting a few cheaters through its doors. I think the school has enough confidence in its own procedures, and in its rigorous structure to eventually catch any aspiring doctor who wants to fake their way through to an M.D. I also think that the practice of medicine, with its boards, internships and residency requirements—in the U.S. at least—is very, very difficult to scam. To do that, the cheater would be better off going to a med school in Grenada, practicing voodoo for five years, then setting up shop here in the U.S. in some immigrant-heavy community.

Dartmouth feared scandal, not cheating. Scandal comes in many packages, but the one they feared the most is that students exposed them making incorrect accusations based on computer data (“infallible data”) that the school didn’t themselves understand or interpret correctly.

As school administrators and medical professors (a pairing more likely to succumb to a “god complex” than any people on earth) saw students asking difficult questions and requesting access to log data to defend themselves, they got out their suture kits and sewed everything up tight. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a legal organization once helmed by David French, wrote several letters to Dartmouth questioning the school’s due process procedures (or lack of them).

Dartmouth’s response was to password-protect its due process policies. Then they rolled out a new Social Media Use Policy that cautions students against “anonymous” posts, and establishes disciplinary standards for content that could “disparage” members of the Geisel School of Medicine’s community, or isn’t “courteous, respectful and considerate of others” online. (In an aside, I suppose this bans all Dartmouth medical school students from ever using Twitter.)

The dates of the policy and the 48-hour rollout makes it clear that this was a direct response to students posting their concerns about cheating allegations on social media. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) took notice in late March and wrote to the school. It took over two months or continuous pressure to get them to listen. Their knee-jerk response is to double-down and lock down on free speech.

It’s no wonder that in November of 2020, before any of this latest scandal erupted, that Dartmouth was rated “an abysmal 52 out of 55” in FIRE’s first College Free Speech Rankings. The Dartmouth Review cheekily put this in perspective.

Late last week, the 2020 College Free Speech Rankings were released. Dartmouth debuted at an abysmal 52 out of 55 in the inaugural year of the survey, marking a sharp departure from previous assessments of the state of free speech at the College. This announcement was celebrated by the Men’s Lacrosse team, who have now been unseated as having the lowest national ranking on campus.

That makes it much more clear why FIRE and the EFF acted so quickly, and kept Dartmouth on their radar, for violations of free speech and draconian action against students.

While I’m glad the school takes its exams so seriously, I’m not glad that, if left to its own devices, Dartmouth would turn out little clones of its Ivy League self: self-consumed doctors with an unshakeable belief in their own rightness, in any topic whether they possess expertise in it or not, willing to lay down the law on you to prevent you from exposing their weakness. In other words, capital-A holes.

Huzzah and glory to the students who fought that system, and won. Humility is one quality Dartmouth should be teaching, but it’s better when learned “on the job.” Those students who came through the cheating scandal are going to be better doctors for it. I hope Dartmouth leaders will also learn from it, but I can’t say I have the same confidence in them.

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Political prisoners?

A quick hit here. One sentence in the final paragraph of a story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Friday edition. The story was about the arrest of Kevin Douglas Creek, a roofing contractor from Alpharetta, for his role in the January 6th Capitol insurrection, which AJC called a “riot.” The sentence is:

Creek does not appear to have a criminal record, but federal judges in other cases have been reluctant to release alleged rioters accused of assaulting police on Jan. 6. Prosecutors claims such people remain a danger to the community.

Several times in the last two months, President Biden has made a major speech alleging that “democracy is still threatened.” On April 29th, speaking to a joint session of Congress, he called the Capitol insurrection the “worst attack on U.S. democracy since the Civil War.” In his Memorial Day address, he continued the theme.

Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted support for the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which, according to the Sacramento Bee, “pays criminal bail and immigration bonds for those who cannot otherwise afford to as we seek to end discriminatory, coercive, and oppressive jailing.”

In Hennepin County, rioter Thomas Moseley was arrested twice within a month in late 2020 and early 2021, having been released in cases alleging he damaged a police precinct. From Fox News:

According to the Hennepin County Attorney's office, Thomas Moseley, 29, had been arrested and released in cases involving allegations that include damaging a police precinct in August and rioting in December. He was arrested again on Jan. 27, just 22 days after his latest release. During that span, he is also suspected of trying to illegally purchase a gun, and officers are investigating that matter.

The criminal complaint notes that “the Defendant was able to secure unconditional release after the Minnesota Freedom Fund posted $5,000 cash in addition to a bond that had been previously secured. In a third now-pending case, the Defendant was then charged with Riot in the Second Degree from an event that occurred on December 31, 2020.”

But “judges are reluctant to release alleged rioters accused of assaulting police on Jan. 6.” Over 400 people have been arrested and charged with participating the January 6th insurrection. To be sure, it’s a terrible day in American history. It’s not worse than the Civil War, or 9/11, or the Beirut Marine barracks bombing in 1983, or the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombing.

Many of the men and women who may be rotting in prison awaiting trial for fighting police officers at the Capitol are not threats to their community. They are not nearly as “bad” as bored thugs who show up at Antifa gatherings to commit mayhem and throw Molotov cocktails at police. Yet one group has the Vice President of the United States tweeting support for their bail fund, and the other is treated like they are a Fifth Column of treasonous rebels by the media and a “threat to democracy” by the President of the United States.

Something is wrong here.

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