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UCF business instructor becomes folk hero after taking hard line on cheating

ORLANDO — It was a lecture Richard Quinn hoped he would never have to deliver.

Faced with evidence of cheating by up to a third of his class — 150 to 200 students — the University of Central Florida business instructor confronted them in a weekly lecture.

"To say I'm disappointed is beyond comprehension," Quinn said, his voice quavering with indignation. "Physically ill. Absolutely disgusted. Completely disillusioned."

Then Quinn gave them a choice: Confess and you had a shot at clearing your transcript. Don't and you could be suspended or expelled.

"If you want to take a high-risk gamble, take it," he told his students. "I challenge you to take it, because we know who you are."

This week, a video of Quinn's emotional lecture turned him into an academic folk hero. Calls and e-mails poured into UCF from as far away as Ontario, Maui and Tel Aviv. One urged Quinn to address Congress, another suggested he write a book on ethics.

And a Michigan father of three wrote: "Finally, someone with some guts."

• • •

Quinn, 62, has taught at UCF's College of Business Administration for 11 years, but he's no ivory-tower theorist.

Before UCF, he worked for 27 years as a manager at Eastman Kodak. There, he built a start-up venture into a $100 million line of business.

If you spend that much time in a competitive corporate environment, you're bound to see some sketchy behavior, Quinn said.

But what unfolded in his 615-student strategic management class sickened him, he says, sparking his Nov. 1 video lecture.

The problem began during the midterm, which students took over the course of four days in the middle of October.

Quinn noted that the test scores were suspiciously high, a grade and a half higher than in past years. A few days later, a student left in his mailbox a copy of the "test bank," a set of potential test questions produced for instructors by the textbook publisher. The test bank is supposed to be unavailable to students, but pilfered copies are sold online.

Around the same time, he began to hear that some students were bragging that they aced the test because they had the questions in advance.

Chains of forwarded e-mails identified those who got the questions. Consulting with administrators, Quinn decided to scrap the midterm and make all 615 students re-take it.

Those who cheated were offered a chance at redemption: If they admitted getting the answers, did not have a previous record and took a four-hour ethics course, their records would be wiped clean.

The consequences could be more severe for the ringleaders, those who hunker down hoping they don't get caught or those who have cheated before. Some could be kicked out of school for at least one term. In the worst cases, students could be expelled and have their records sealed.

"What that means is that if you ever decide you want to go back to school again, nothing you took here will transfer," said Taylor Ellis, the business college's associate dean for academic programs and technology.

Two of Quinn's students who acknowledged receiving the test bank declined to comment or give their names. One said he was just trying to get an advantage, like everyone else.

That's nuts, said a third student. Quinn's course is known as the capstone course, because business students take it during their graduating semester.

Eric Sclar, who is in Quinn's class, said he did not receive one of the e-mails and was amazed that anyone in their final semester would take the chance of using them.

"There's no way it's good for anyone in this graduating class," Sclar said. Prospective employers are "going to wonder, 'Are you someone who's all right with cheating?'

"I feel bad for anyone who might not get a job because of that."

• • •

The scandal comes amid a run of growth and good fortune at UCF.

With more than 56,000 students, it recently passed Ohio State to become the nation's second-largest university behind Arizona State. This week, the Knights secured a Top 25 football ranking for the first time in school history.

And this summer, the New York Times ran a front-page story spotlighting the College of Business Administration's high-tech testing center.

There, seven video cameras monitor and record students taking tests on 164 computers.

Cell phones are banned. So are ball caps with the bills worn to the front, where a student could glance up at a crib sheet under the bill. So is gum. A student could chew it to disguise the motion of speaking on a hands-free phone inserted in the ear.

Over the years, proctors have caught students who paid others to take their tests, communicated by American sign language and written notes on an arm covered by a full sleeve of tattoos.

Angela Glass, 23, is also in Quinn's strategic management class. She said she did not receive the answers and hadn't encountered anything like this in her years at UCF.

"I just don't want it to be the perception that it happens in every class and all over UCF," she said.

But cheating is a problem on college campuses nationwide.

Up to 70 to 75 percent of college students self-report engaging in some sort of slippery academic conduct, according to the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University's Robert J. Rutland Institute for Ethics.

That can range from listing a book the student didn't read in a bibliography to cut-and-paste plagiarism or buying a term paper online.

At UCF, Quinn said he never expected what happened in his class to get noticed off-campus. Nor did he imagine that it would resonate on a global scale.

But he's encouraged that it did.

"If it exploded, maybe it needed to explode," he said. "Maybe it's a conversation that's been needed for a long time."

UCF business instructor becomes folk hero after taking hard line on cheating 11/11/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 12, 2010 12:52pm]
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