Cheating poses interesting ethical questions

Opinions Columnist | Public relations senior

“Once a cheater, always a cheater” may apply to some students, but I do not think it applies to many.

A recent discussion in one of my classes raised the ethics of a cheater. “Once a cheater, always a cheater” was the main argument. Some students argued that they only cheated once in college and never again, so the phrase was a hyperbole, and I agree.

I have never cheated in college, and being two months from graduation, I do not see that changing. However, I do believe some college students who have cheated in college have learned from their experience and should not be placed in a confined “cheater bubble.”

It is not to say that so long as you learn from your mistake and never do it again, cheating is acceptable. That is not the case with any mistake. Cheating is absolutely unethical and should never be practiced. But I do believe there is a distinction between college students who learn from their one-time affair and the students who get through college doing nothing but cheating.

During the discussion, some voiced concern that if a student cheated in college, it meant future unethical behavior in the workplace. Undoubtedly, this could be the case for many sly people but not so much for a one-time offender. It all depends on the person, the situation and the way in which he or she cheated. It is unfair to label someone based on one vulnerable moral decision.

Everyone makes mistakes. That is the essence of being human. It is also the reason why our nation is full of second chances. A person will make a mistake and be chastised for it. This is why our university has a strict academic dishonesty policy: to teach its students that cheating is completely unacceptable and is a very real threat to student academic life.

I have heard almost every one of my professors preach about ethics. They know it is very likely we may encounter a situation in our career where we have to decide between job security and the ethical way. They also know it is possible we will make the wrong decision and choose unethically.

I applaud my professors and the university for constantly advocating strong ethical standards. However, if a person chooses to be unethical in the workplace, it is probably because of the situation at hand, not because they plagiarized a college paper and are suddenly invincible.

When I talked to a few students who admitted to cheating, they were stricken with guilt. I can never truly know if they were honest about only cheating once, but I do believe they learned from it.

The best thing about college is it is an all-around learning experience. It is a chance to learn about yourself and learn from experts about the great big world out there, including learning from your mistakes. If a student is to be labeled the rest of his or her college career for one mistake, then it is not an adequate learning experience and feels a bit arbitrary, to be honest.