A Cheating Scandal Erupts At The Kellogg School Of Management

Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management


Kellogg’s honor code says explicitly that “any breach of confidentiality” other than required for an investigation, or which occurs on a “need-to-know basis,” violates the code. Code violations can draw sanctions ranging from suspension of student privileges to expulsion from Kellogg and Northwestern. Students are obliged by the code to report suspected honor code violations to school authorities.

Two of the students who say they witnessed honor code violations in the form of the alleged cheating, then reported them to school authorities, and then discussed their allegations with Poets&Quants on Monday (Nov. 2) called back Wednesday to say they and other students who spoke out now fear retribution from the school, because MSMS program director Melanie Wright had come into their management class on Tuesday (Nov. 3) and told the students that speaking to the media about the cheating issue was a violation of the school’s honor code, as was speaking to peers about it. “She was really, really worried and stressed out,” says one student from the class. Wright reportedly told students that if they were contacted by the media, they should redirect the reporter to the school’s PR department. Wright’s visit to the class occurred two days after Poets&Quants had called the alleged cheaters along with their accusers.

The three purported witnesses – five students are said to have observed the cheating directly – spoke by phone to Poets&Quants on condition of anonymity, saying they worried about punishment from the school and pushback from the accused cheaters. Those who allegedly received phone-call threats shared the details with the others, and the students say they fear their cheating peers.


Not only did all six dishonest students get their grades back for the classes in which they cheated on the finals, some have been boasting of their high grades, telling other students they have been invited to many employer interviews – one claimed 40 invitations – and have been receiving job offers, say students in the program.

The exams were taken in September. One of those who allegedly witnessed the cheating was an honor code representative, students say. School administrators assigned a student academic representative, a close friend of one of those accused reported to “party with him every weekend,” to lead the investigation. Another student who told school and honor code officials he witnessed cheating was subsequently put under honor code investigation for cheating, students say.

“Everybody in the class knows what is happening and everyone in the class knows that the sole goal of the administration is to silence the witnesses,” claims one purported witness to cheating.


Cheating at business schools, and other schools, is of course not uncommon. Last year, Rutgers University professor Donald McCabe, who had released a study in 2006 that said 56% of students in U.S. and Canadian graduate business programs (mostly MBAs) cheated, told media he believed the rate had gone up. Academic dishonesty happens everywhere.

The last big cheating scandal to hit a business school was eight years ago when 34 first-year MBA students at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business were found to have cheated on a take-home final exam. The school’s judicial board ultimately meted out severe punishment: Nine students were expelled over the incident, 15 were suspended for a year and received a failing grade in the class. The remaining students got failing grades for the course.

The Kellogg cheating scandal appears small in comparison. More alarming, however, are allegations by witnesses that lower-level school officials have used Kellogg’s honor code to effectively muzzle the whistle blowers. The repeated reminders to students from Kellogg officials that speaking about honor code violations is itself a violation have troubling implications. Instruction to remain silent on unproven allegations and rumors can help prevent harm to students unjustly accused. But the code imposes obligations and sanctions that are a clear deterrent to whistle-blowing on any student misconduct – without students willing to risk sanctions including expulsion, no knowledge of any non-criminal student misconduct is likely to leak beyond the school’s walls. The code both protects Kellogg’s reputation, and precludes oversight of the school’s response to reported student misconduct.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.