Months after Dartmouth College accused 17 medical students of cheating on one or more exams, the university has dropped the honor-code charges against the students, even though it knew weeks ago that the data used to accuse them was inaccurate.
The New York Times reported in May that administrators at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine had accused 17 medical students of cheating during remove exams, evidence of which they obtained from online activity monitoring software. The Times highlighted the case of 22-year-old Sirey Zhang, a first-year student and one of the 17 accused of cheating. Dartmouth claimed that Zhang looked up course material pertaining to one question during three separate tests and threatened to expel him.
Zhang insisted he had not cheated and said he was told by officials at Dartmouth’s student affairs office to just plead guilty and show remorse in order to receive a better outcome. Terrified, Zhang did just that, but is now appealing the decision to suspend him and maintain a permanent misconduct mark on his academic record.
“What has happened to me in the last month, despite not cheating, has resulted in one of the most terrifying, isolating experiences of my life,” Zhang told the Times.
The problem with Dartmouth’s allegations against the students is that the data used to accuse them is inaccurate. The school used Canvas, its learning management system, to retroactively track students’ activity during remote exams without their knowledge, the Times reported. Canvas, the outlet reported, is not designed to be a forensic tool. Instead, it is used by professors to post assignments and for students to submit their homework. Students told the Times that they often have multiple Canvas tabs open that they don’t log out of, and a review of the data by the outlet found that the system can log activity even when the students aren’t using it.
After being accused, however, students said they were not provided a fair process to defend themselves.
“They said they had less than 48 hours to respond to the charges, were not provided complete data logs for the exams, were advised to plead guilty though they denied cheating or were given just two minutes to make their case in online hearings, according to six of the students and a review of documents,” the Times reported.
The medical school’s dean, Duane Compton, defended the institution’s accusations against the students to the Times back in May, even saying that the school’s decision to drop the allegations against seven students proved the system worked.
“The fact that we had a large number of students and we were very deliberate about eliminating a large, large fraction or majority of those students from consideration,” he told the Times, adding, “I think actually makes the case well for us trying to be really careful about this.”
The accusations led to protests on campus by students calling for due process.
Now, weeks after the Times investigation into the problems with the allegations, Dartmouth is dropping the charges against the remaining accused students, with Compton sending an email to the medical school community saying he has “apologized to the students for what they have been through.”
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