Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cheating their way toward ordination

Cheating is epidemic in academia. It can take several forms. From looking over a neighbor's shoulder during an exam, to claiming to have read a book you never opened, to plagiarizing some or all of a term paper. Students do it and professors catch it, but I suspect most get away with it at some level.

As a professor I pride myself on my ability to figure out when a student is plagiarizing. I seem to have a nose for it. I have also caught people cheating on tests. When I teach Greek I give a take home quiz. The students can study all they want, but when they take the quiz they are to do so with closed books. Over the years I have found a way to flush out cheating students. If a student does well on the take home quiz, but can't read a lick of Greek or parse their way out of a paper bag, I simply re-administer the quiz in class. I collect their quizzes and then handout the same quiz again. If a student cannot lay pen to paper I am pretty sure they are cheating.

I knew that students cheat, but I had not realized the lengths to which they would go. A former student of mine alerted me to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The article is an essay by an individual who writes papers for students. We have all heard of the companies that do this, but here is the confession of someone who is paid to do it ($66,000 per annum!). He also has been paid to take online classes. Here is his own confession.

I have completed countless online courses. Students provide me with passwords and user names so I can access key documents and online exams. In some instances, I have even contributed to weekly online discussions with other students in the class.

But in light of what I already know about the cheating epidemic, this is only mildly surprising. What did disappoint me, however, was the amount of business this person gets from seminary students. Here is what he has to say on that score.

I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America's moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.

When I read this I have to wonder what these students are thinking. These are people who supposedly have received a call to minister to the people of God and are cheating their way towards ordination! No wonder so many of our minsters are unable to articulate their theology or critically think through a situation. Some, although it sounds like a lot, are not doing the work laid out for them. They are buying it and somehow have rationalized that this is "OK".

I think the essayist hits the nail on the head. Students seem to think that "doing ministry" is more important than the steps required to get there. They either want or need the MDiv degree, but don't want to do the work. They just want to get on with it.

Why is this acceptable? Why are we willing to sit under a less-than-prepared minister? None of us want to go under the knife with a surgeon who barely made it out of medical school much less one that cheated his/her way through. Who wants to be treated by somebody who paid to have their papers written? Yet, somehow, this is "ok" for minsters.

We all have our weaknesses and we all succumb to doing things that we shouldn't. But I still wonder what is going on in the minds of people who think they can cheat their way towards ordination and somehow God will be "ok" with it.


  1. Wow!

    I'm not sure the thought process extends to recognizing the ultimate consequence, i.e. one's standing before God.

    Unfortunately, we live in the age of entitlement and instant gratfication. Many want to start at the top rather than putting the necessary work in to achieve that status.

    This is really a sad commentary on where people value results over integrity, allowing the 'grade' to compromise one's convicitions. As far as consequences, those who profit from these weak-minded individuals are no better. In fact, whoever this person is rendering the cheating service should be prosecuted, and those who cheat should be expelled immediately.

    Outside of the obvious, catching someone looking on another's test or quiz, or your inherent ability to sniff cheating on take home exams, I'm not sure how one curtails this level of sophisticated cheating.

    Sad, truly sad...

  2. In my first year of Greek (not with you, John) we had a take home exam. I got a phone call from a fellow student who sat beside me in class. He started asking me questions about a few sentences. Since I was not home at the time I couldn't respond to what he was asking me, but I was uneasy about his questions. When I got home I checked it out and, sure enough, he was asking me about the test. I called him and told him I would not answer his questions--it was a test and I would not help him. He huffed at me a bit and hung up. At the next class when we were to turn in the test, he started asking me questions AGAIN! I looked him in the eye and said, "This is a TEST and I will NOT help you!" He stomped away. At the break I told the TA (prof wasn't there). I certainly didn't want to be involved in that. I questioned this, too--this guy wanted to be a pastor--but cheating his way through seminary???? Interestingly, he disappeared from class about week 6. I didn't see him again. Sad, very sad.

  3. Dr. Byron,
    In my 4 years here at seminary I have found the most frustrating thing (as both a GA and a student) to be people doing about 50% in Seminary. I hear all the time from people in small groups, "Of course I didn't do the reading," or "I'm too busy to do any of the outside work/ study for a quiz." The thing that really bothers me about this is that these individuals are pursuing God's calling on their lives. They simply are coasting through Seminary so that they can obtain ordination. I think part of the responsibility lies with denominations that just want to see a degree, not a transcript. Make the requirements harder, and then students may begin to apply themselves more fully.

  4. This is disgusting-- and yet widespread. I have also experienced (yes, at my beloved seminary where the blogger is a professor) being approached for inappropriate help. (How's that sound?) I have read papers as a GA that will begin as these poorly-constructed pieces of gibberish and then suddenly contain paragraphs of brilliant exegesis perfectly written. I suppose part of my upset is that these students think this will not be noticed, and they become indignant when busted. Many do seem to think that it okay to skimp through their seminary preparation to get on with ministry, but I, for one, do not want to be ministered to by someone who hasn't the time or ethical convictions to take this piece of their preparation seriously.

  5. My grandmother would always be more ethical than the law required. I know a couple of pastors who do the same thing. They are so concerned about integrity that they hold themselves to even higher standards than others expect them to. They are a great example.

  6. Dr. Byron,

    I clicked on the link you posted and read the entire article. I am perplexed on a myriad of levels. One, that a job like this exists in the world. Two, at the level of incompetence that exists in higher level education. I question how some people get into college in the first place. Three, how professors can't uncover such behavior. Four, how our education system is set up to bread and encourage such practices. I could go on, but that seems to suffice.

    In my own seminary experience, I had a definitive moment where I had to question my own motivation. I remember taking a class in which the class size was about 40+ people. We had a large assignment due in the class mid-quarter. After turning in the assignment (which I believe totaled 15 pages) I expected the assignment to take weeks to grade. The next week the professor returned each paper with a grade, but no paper had comments written on them. I thought to myself, how could the professor who had a full teaching load, a large class turning in a semi-large assignment, no GA that we were aware of, read all these papers critically enough to give a grade? In that moment, I thought to myself, why even try if the professor6 doesn't seem to care. I struggled on the next assignment to give it my best. I seriously considered turning in a half-hearted paper because I knew the there was no way the professor would thoroughly read it. In the middle of the assignment the Holy Spirit brought to my attention 1 Cor. 10:31, "whatever you it to the glory of God." I was seriously convicted and rewrote my paper.

    In seminary, I think we fail to realize that the grade is not the truest test of our abilities as pastors. Our willingness to "do all to the glory of God" is what truly reflects our abilities to lead God's people.

    Thanks for a great post in response to a deeply disturbing article.

  7. What would you reccomend for someone to do if they started Bible school off with the only motive to try and believe better in God and then became convicted to no longer cheat and fully pursue God and after that, working in ministry? What would you suggest for someone who has already graduated and cheated through school? Should they reject their degree or deny some of their pay? Confess it to the church if during or before their pastorate? Sorry for all of the questions. I've been searching for some answers and need help. Thanks!

  8. Dear Anonymous,

    I would repent to God first. You might then find it necessary to speak to some of the instructors in whose class you cheated. In the past I have students come to me and confess and it was clear that the lesson they learned since cheating was just as important as the one I taught him/her. If, however, we are talking about major fraud, then it might be good to talk to the elders in the church and perhaps even the administration of the school. You and those you minister will be better served if you confess and repent than if you worry secretly about the consequences. If you would like to email my privately please feel free to do so at I promise complete confidentiality.

  9. Thank you very muchfor the the advice and offer. I may take you up on the email offer. Personally, I'm not done with school yet but I am planning on having a clean streak for the last half of my education. I went into school a skeptic/searcher and now that I've become very solidified in my faith, I have to make this next step. I want to go into some form of ministry or teaching now and I can't claim that I did all of the work to earn the degree. It was never plagiarism on papers, it was mainly on quizes and tests since I am a distance student. Thank you again and please pray that I will have the strength and courage to do the rigth things and move forward in my faith.