GMAT Cheating & Business School

What’s a school to do when it finds that students have cheated to gain admission to their program? Does it make a difference when it’s a business school?

I missed blogging phase 1 of this story when it broke back in June. But there are new developments in the GMAT cheating case: the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC, the organization that administers the GMAT) has cancelled (i.e., nullified) the test scores of 84 individuals who, according to GMAC’s investigation, are guilty of cheating. The issue is complicated by the fact that at least some of the cheaters have already been admitted to various business schools on the basis of their illegitimate scores, and at least one has already graduated, which leaves those schools with some uncomfortable decisions to make. It’s easy-ish to decline to admit candidates known to have cheated; harder (practically and maybe emotionally) to expel a student who’s already in, or to rescind the diploma of one who’s already graduated.

Here’s the story from the Wall Street Journal: Schools Cancel GMAT Scores

Top U.S. business schools canceled the admissions-test scores of 84 applicants and students — including two enrolled at the University of Chicago and one who has graduated from Stanford University — who allegedly supplied or accessed live exam questions posted on a Web site.

In June, the Graduate Management Admission Council, which represents the business schools and oversees the GMAT admissions test, obtained a federal court order that shut down the Web site and won a $2.3 million judgment against its operator. The site had been selling questions from recent exams to subscribers who paid a $30-a-month subscription. The operator of the Web site, believed to be in China, didn’t defend itself in court, and it wasn’t known where any representatives could be reached.

The latest episode has rattled the schools, and it comes as they have been trying to increase security.

Here’s the same story from BusinessWeek: Nearly 100 Would-Be MBAs Nailed in GMAT Scandal

One of the interesting points brought up by the BusinessWeek story is the fact that there’s research suggesting that business-school students are more likely to cheat than other students. The story cites Rutgers prof Donald McCabe who has done research on the topic.

So, what’s the prescription? McCabe seems to think the schools should take a tough stand, though the BusinessWeek story doesn’t say just what that means. I’ll give two arguments on each side:

In favour of tough action (e.g., expelling students admitted based on illegitimate GMAT scores)…

  • Cheating is bad; it’s fraudulent. Being admitted to business school based on a fraudulent GMAT score is like being hired on the basis of a fraudulent cv. It’s grounds for dismissal. Period.
  • The fact that this is business school militates in favour of harshness. Regardless of your degree of cynicism about current levels of trusthworthiness in business, you have to agree that having trustworthy people going into business (particularly in leadership roles) is important. So b-schools should be at least as tough as anyone else, maybe tougher.

In favour of lenient action (e.g., not expelling students, but maybe putting them on probation, etc.)…

  • At many schools, at least, one academic violation is not enough to warrant expulsion. Cheat once and you get a reprimand and a note in your file. Cheat twice and they may show you the door. Why be any more harsh regarding one form of cheating than another?
  • Contrary to what McCabe suggests, a harsh reaction from business schools may not have any deterrent effect, for the same reason harsh criminal sanctions don’t reliably deter crime: no one thinks they’re going to get caught. Admission to a good b-school is a big deal, with the potential for a big dollar pay-off. Under such circumstances, deterrent is unlikely to work.

What do you think?

On a related note, I just found out about this interesting project based at the School of Business at the American University of Beirut. Bicharaf (the Arabic for “with honor”), which “aims at promoting academic integrity
and ethical awareness among students, faculty, administrators, and business professionals.”

(Thanks to Faraz for letting me know about Bicharaf!)

5 comments so far

  1. Andrew on

    Chris,Kudos for presenting both sides of the argument in a fair and logical manner.I favor the harsher approach, which I feel has the stronger arguments. The actions of the students were highly unethical and they deprived otherwise deserving students of opportunities to enter business school. Business school entry should be reserved for achievers, not cheats.Expulsion from business school, and in the one case, nullifying the individuals degree, is the best option in my opinion. To be sure, such a measure is harsh, and will have a very large impact on the lives of the individuals concerned – But that is exactly my point. The only way to deter such behavior is to demonstrate that there are serious consequences in the lives of those who are caught.CheersAndrew

  2. Chris MacDonald on

    Andrew:Just to play devil’s advocate…Is there any reason to think it would serve as a deterrent? The prize (admission to a good school) is very valuable, and the chance of getting caught is (still) small.Chris.

  3. Andrew on

    Chris,You do raise a fair point.Despite an example being made, there would still be some students who decide to take their chances.Still, I think an example must be made anyhow. It won’t deter all, but it may just deter some.

  4. L.Brown.1969 on

    I believe taking a degree that may have cost fifty to hundred thousand dollars is a harsh penalty for what perceivably could be one major mistake.

  5. Anonymous on

    Why does there need to be a deterrant? The expulsions and degree revocation would keep the individuals concerned away from business leadership, or at least distance the universities from them. The actions would cost the institutions nothing.

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