In Calculus III in Room 211 at Krieger Hall, the Johns Hopkins University mathematics professor and his students were stumped yesterday -- not by the intricate world of vector analysis or multiple variables but by the universal question: What is fair?
In a highly unusual forum, Professor John Michael Boardman led a discussion with more than 50 students about allegations of misconduct that cast a pall over the class' three-hour final last week. The forum raised broader questions about ethics at the esteemed university and a competitive environment that some students say encourages academic success at almost any cost.
"We have a rampant cheating problem at this school," said 20-year-old Saketh Rahm, a Student Council representative for the Class of 2001 who warned that it is "very detrimental to what this university stands for."
A fire alarm -- described as "a fluke" by math Chairman Joel Spruck -- forced Boardman's students to stop five minutes into their final exam and evacuate the room for about 15 minutes. Many took the exam with them, and some discussed it, either intending to cheat, or thinking the test was canceled, students and faculty said.
The conundrum that faced the professor yesterday was: Do you make the class retake the test next fall -- the only time possible because many students have left for summer vacation, an alternative that would punish those who did not cheat?
Or, do you accept the test results as is, implicitly rewarding those who did cheat?
Either way, students were worried about a decision that could affect their grade point average, applications to graduate school and the reputation of the school.
"The truth is, cheating happened," said 23-year-old senior Diana Young. "In my opinion, the test should have been called off."
Another student said, "The academic integrity of that exam was breached."
Some said the 15-minute break from the test did not give students enough time to cheat. Students also were allowed to use one page of formulas, which some said diminished the impact of cheating. The professor said the test results did not show any discernible deviations, prompting some students to say retaking the test was unnecessary.
One student said she felt "insulted" by strict test monitoring at Hopkins -- including some classes that require students to sign in and check their bags. "We can't even be trusted," she said.
The policy of the Undergraduate Academic Ethics Board, comprised of students and faculty, reminds students, "You carry a special obligation to uphold the high standard of academic integrity at the Johns Hopkins University."
Penalties for violations of the code of conduct vary from a notation in a student's transcript to expulsion.
"We take this very seriously," said Hopkins spokesman Steve Libowitz.
Some Hopkins students say grades are taken even more seriously, describing a school atmosphere they say is so cutthroat that some have been accused of ruining their classmates' lab work to gain a competitive edge.
Libowitz said that Hopkins is a competitive school, but "that does not translate naturally into cheating or sabotaging lab experiments. We expect our students to be honorable, and to what degree people aren't is anecdotal."
For his class, Boardman concluded that the honorable thing to do was to reduce the weight of the final exam on the student's grade from 53 percent to 45 percent, giving more emphasis to homework and the midterm exam. He also gave his students the option of taking a substitute final in the fall.
"No solution will satisfy everybody," the professor said in announcing his decision to students through his Web page on the Internet.
Pub Date: 5/12/98