During an accounting final in September at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, six students were exchanging their exams and copying answers, a number of their peers allege. The cheaters, all male, were taking notes out of bags, and talking with each other. One – described by other students as “the smart one” – was drawing accounting charts in the air and pointing to places on others’ exams. There was no proctor, and the professor was shuttling between tests in two rooms. While he was gone, the six students cheated energetically. When he returned, they stopped. One student copied answers from another’s exam without knowing there were two versions of the test, and received a B because a failing grade would have acknowledged the cheating.
During a statistics final shortly before the accounting exam, also with no proctor, the same cheating students were grouped in threes in the two back rows, texting each other, peering into each others’ laptop screens, talking with each other – taking advantage of their sick professor’s inattention and repeated absences from the room.
Since then, the dishonest students have been bragging to peers about their high GPAs and their 110-out-of-120 scores on the stats final, and reeling in employer interviews and job offers. Students who didn’t cheat were graded on a curve with those who did. “These cheaters moved up the median,” claims one purported witness to the misconduct. Says another, “It’s so unfair to people who work so hard.”
‘IF WE GET CAUGHT, THERE WILL BE BLOOD EVERYWHERE’
These are all allegations made to Poets&Quants by three students in the school’s MS in Management Studies program. The three accuse the school of assigning a biased student to conduct the student side of an honor code investigation, of failing to punish the cheating, and of allowing the names of the purported witnesses to be shared with the purported cheaters, leading to menacing phone calls from several alleged cheaters to their peers. “The day I come to know who reported me, I will fucking kill him or her,” were the words of one caller, according to a purported witness to the cheating. Another accused cheater reportedly said in a phone call, “If we get caught, there will be blood everywhere. We will involve a lot of people in this drama and blame innocent people. Don’t mess with us.”
Students who reported cheating say they also reported the threats. Meanwhile, school administrators have told the students in the $50,000, 10-month MSMS program not to discuss the matter with each other, or with the media, as allegations of honor code violations are confidential. At a quarterly class check-in meeting held while talk of cheating was swirling among the MSMS class, the students’ faculty academic adviser, management and organizations professor Nicholas Pearce, an ordained Chicago minister and leadership coach, talked about the cheating allegations and reminded the class, essentially, that the first rule about honor code violations is that you don’t talk about honor code violations, students say.
“We were all threatened not to say anything,” charges one student who says he witnessed the cheating in both exams, and was not alone in interpreting Pearce’s comments, and a later warning from a senior administrator, as threats and suggestions of a cover-up. The student claims Pearce told the class that loose talk could damage the program’s reputation. “A lot of people got angry because he was more interested in not having it leaked than punishing the cheaters.” The MSMS students were also told at the meeting not to discuss the cheating allegations among themselves, students say.