On April 29, sophomores in Modern History and juniors/seniors in World Since 1945 were required to take a “day of silence.” Chris Butler, who has been a history teacher at Uni for 38 years, found out that several students in his sophomore classes were cheating on exams and “tizzes” (a combination of “tests” and “quizzes”). The series of incidents has led many in the Uni community to question how often cheating really happens and how to deal with it.
One day, sophomores in Modern History and the upperclassmen in World Since 1945 were met with a message on the projector from Butler. The message was a response to what he had discovered about students cheating on his tests. Here’s part of what was shown to the students:
“In such a small school as Uni, there are few, if any secrets. Therefore, it’s come to my attention that there has been substantial cheating on my exams by way of using smart phones hidden in students’ laps.
“My first reaction on learning this was that students must consider me a fool for trusting in their honesty. My next thought was that, with all the new technology taking over and passing me by, maybe my time as a teacher is past and I should consider retiring after all these years, because I’m just getting too old to play these cat and mouse games anymore.”
Butler then mentioned that he wasn’t going to “arbitrarily punish the whole class” to catch the students that were cheating.
“We had to stare at the board,” according to Rahi Miraftab-Salo, a sophomore. “We couldn’t use our phones. He said that we couldn’t turn our heads to either side and we couldn’t sleep [during that class period].”
The message ended with Butler explaining why the day of silence was significant:
“I urge you to spend the time thinking about the value of education, the sacrifices your parents and your ancestors made to provide you this opportunity, and the plight of those not so lucky to have such a bright future.
“Anyone who knows me realizes how much I hate giving up even one day of instruction, and therefore how tough this is for me to do, so you can imagine how serious I am about this.”
Michael Anukwu, a senior in Butler’s World Since 1945 class, said that the juniors and seniors received the same message as the sophomores, despite not having in-class tests.
“I think [the day of silence] was mainly meant to punish the people that cheated, because he didn’t seem to know who had been cheating before, so if someone hadn’t brought this to his attention he wouldn’t have known,” said Anukwu.
“I think his reasoning for [also doing the day of silence in World Since 1945] was because he just wanted to do it across the board. You can assume that every class has [had people who have cheated],” said Madeleine Nelson, a senior in World Since 1945.
Students tended to have a variety of reactions about the cheating that was going on.
“Initially, I was pretty mad about it,” said Kat Williams, a sophomore. “It’s super irritating when you work really hard and someone else does better than you because they break the rules, and instead of people acknowledging that you tried really hard and did your best, people just wonder why you aren’t getting the grades other people are.”
Jacob Rajlich, a senior, also had a similar reaction, expressing disappointment.
“You just have to do a bit of studying and really prepare yourself,” Rajlich said. “The idea that some people are unwilling to put in a little bit of time in order to do what’s expected of them is just sad. It’s sad that at a place like Uni, people feel like they have to cheat on something like this… some people might have problems with memorization, but still, cheating is never the answer.”
Sophomore Jared Rosenbaum said that his reaction was just to “stay out of it,” since in the end it’s the cheating students who are becoming dependent on outside resources during tests to do well.
Grace Qiu, another sophomore, said that it seemed like more people were starting to cheat after she first heard about it. “Besides using phones in class, I’ve heard that students will leave flowcharts in open backpacks and look at them while they act as if they’re grabbing something from their backpack. I’ve also heard of someone who left flowcharts on the ground or in the tray beneath their desk. Another form of cheating was people [lightly] pre-writing flowcharts onto their papers prior to the test.”
“I printed out the sheet, and I wanted to make a statement to everybody, not just [students] who cheated. I wanted the sophomores to think about the people who can’t get an education,” Butler said, reflecting on how the Day of Silence went. “I don’t think that this will stop cheating for everyone, but I hope that it will stop some. For my message to people who did cheat I want to say that I’m very disappointed in them and I thought that they were better than that. For the people who didn’t cheat I think the lesson I gave [the cheaters] was worth the one day without education.”
It’s unclear whether or not Butler’s message had its intended effect among the students.
Qiu said she “definitely [doesn’t] think the cheaters are taking this message seriously at all,” because people were very casually talking about the cheating “like it was nothing.” However, Rajlich thought that Butler did “a good job to keep people from cheating for the rest of the year, especially in his class.”
Miriam Ross, a junior, said that she “[felt] that discussing the value of an education would have been more impactful than sitting in silence for an entire class period,” and “in the long run [the day of silence] won’t be as effective as a conversation about the privilege we have to be at Uni.”
One sophomore, who must remain anonymous, admitted to cheating. They cheated “because it was the easier option,” and they assumed that Butler “knew all along” that people were cheating in his class and that he just didn’t care to do anything about it.
“I don’t wanna spend time memorizing dates, when I can put a picture on my phone and look at it. […] [It doesn’t affect other people] because he doesn’t grade on a curve. If it hurts anyone, it hurts Butler, and I don’t really have an emotional attachment to Butler,” our anonymous source said.
“Nobody cares if we’re deprived a day of education. I won’t cheat in the future, not because of the punishment, but because he’s gonna be walking around our desks and checking.”
Karl Radnitzer, the Assistant Director for Student Life at Uni, thought that Butler’s response to the situation was “appropriate,” especially since the cheaters weren’t specifically identified. Radnitzer said that he had heard about the incident from a confused student who thought it was related to the Day of Silence (LGBTQ+ support) held earlier this year. He believed that a fair consequence of a student cheating would be a zero on the assignment/test, along with having a conversation with him.
“We have a conversation, it’s recorded… Then we always explain to the kids that this is a learning opportunity. Then we try to ask them why they cheated. ‘Were you not prepared? Why weren’t you prepared?’ Nine times out of ten people plagiarize because at the last minute they’re trying to get something done and so they just grab something. So we try to get to reason of what had [the student] cheat. That’s pretty straightforward in what we do and what we have done,” Radnitzer said. He thinks it’s more complicated in the situation with the sophomores and when the teacher only has some vague idea that it’s happening, since it’s hard to pinpoint who cheated.
To those that might cheat, Mr. Radnitzer said to come to him and “get to the root of the problem,” instead of “going down [the route of cheating].”