Friday, December 01, 2006

Le Scandale Du Jour

There is a scandal brewing at the Columbia Journalism School.

Ever since taking the online 'Critical Issues' test on journalistic ethics two weeks ago, students have been hearing rumours that there was widespread cheating. The administration remained tight-lipped until a special meeting of professors and students today, in which the 'Critical Issues' professor Sam Freedman announced that cheaters had inflicted "incalculable damage" on the school and its reputation.

It may seem incredibly ironic that budding reporters attending an Ivy League school would be so stupid as to cheat on an ethics exam, but Vice-Dean David Klatell confirmed that students had contacted him after the test had taken place to complain of cheaters passing around the questions by telephone. He said that no names were given, and also said that he would protect the anonymity of the informant.

Addressing 200 visibly upset students in the lecture hall today, Klatell congratulated whoever came forward anonymously. "You did the right thing," he said.

In a further ironic twist, the school was scooped on its own story yesterday by Today the story made the New York Times and the Daily News, and professors said even CNN was sniffing around.

During a Question & Answer session with members of the faculty, it became clear that the online test was rife with problems other than cheating. Dean of Students Sree Sreenivasan said that despite the 90-minute time limit, many students had sent back their tests after going "hours" over the limit. He also said that one student had completed his test in two minutes, while another had finished in 30 minutes.

Sreenivasan faced down a barrage of questions from incensed students, who wanted to know why there had not been an investigation. He explained that with all these technical problems and bizarre completion times, it was nearly impossible to begin singling out students as potential cheaters. "Where's the cut-off point?" he asked. He said students had come forward citing technical problems, while others had admitted to going over the time limit. "That's not technically cheating," said Sreenivasan.

The students complained of their degrees now being devalued, and many questioned the faculty's use of anonymous tips, especially after Professor Freedman had attacked the use of anonymous sources so forcefully throughout the 'Critical Issues' course. Ayub Nuri, a 27-year-old reporter from Iraq, got up to tell students that "it is not the end of the world," but most seemed to disagree.

One enterprising student decided to sneak off with a New York Times reporter to give an interview, only minutes after having declared his degree as now worthless.

This is the first time an online exam has been used to grade 'Critical Issues.' Students were given a 24-hour period in which to take the 90-minute test, and were trusted on the honor system not to communicate with one another.


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