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Dartmouth Apologizes, Drops Cheating Charges Against Med Students (Part I)

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jan 10, 2022 | 0 Comments

Dropped Zoom calls, constant distraction, social isolation, and even less-successful performance compared to in-person instruction—these are just a few of the frustrations of remote learning in higher education. But accusations of academic misconduct?

That's what several students at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine had been grappling with until the school decided to drop charges of cheating that they had leveled against the scholars.

The First Wave of Allegations

Initially, 17 students were under investigation for the alleged honor code violations. They were accused of having turned to Canvas, the university's learning management system (LMS), during remote closed-book exams.

Dartmouth implemented Canvas, which allows professors to post assignments and other materials, and students to submit their work, in 2013, but it has become an even more essential educational program thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that necessitated remote learning.

Seven of the accused students were cleared after administrators were found to have mistaken automated actions within the system for human ones. The remaining ten students, however, were still left facing possible course failure, misconduct marks on their academic records, and even suspension and expulsion—all ramifications that could have seriously affected the remainder of their education and their medical careers.

After a months-long investigation, Geisel officials recommended that three students be expelled, while the other seven receive lesser, but still serious, disciplinary measures.

Student Issues Intensify

Dartmouth was broadly—and loudly—criticized not just for the allegations, however, but also for how it handled the review process. During later interviews, several of the students said that they were not given appropriate opportunities to defend themselves against the charges. Among their counter-allegations were claims that they were given less than 48 hours to respond to charges, were provided with incomplete documentation to review, and received only two minutes' worth of time to defend themselves during online hearings.

Worst, some of the accused said they were even urged to plead guilty. One of them, a first-year medical student named Sirey Zhang, told The New York Times that he felt pressured to admit to the wrongdoing. Representatives of the student affairs office at Dartmouth, Zhang said, indicated that he would be treated with greater leniency if he expressed remorse.

“What has happened to me in the last month, despite not cheating, has resulted in one of the most terrifying, isolating experiences of my life,” said the 22-year-old aspiring pediatrician.

Independent Investigation—and Exoneration

Several months after the initial allegations and investigations, The New York Times obtained school documents as well as an independent software review. This research found that students' computers and other electronic devices could have automatically generated Canvas activity data, even when they were not in use.

In response to media outrage as well as protests by current Geisel students, Dartmouth alumni and faculty, and technology experts who offered their professional opinion about the possible—and impossible—uses of the Canvas LMS, the school announced it would be rescinding the allegations against all students.

In an email to the Geisel Medical School community, Dean Duane A. Compton added that their academic records would not reflect the school's suspicions. “I have decided to dismiss all the honor code charges,” the email read. Added the Dean, “I have apologized to the students for what they have been through.”

A school spokesman declined to comment further on the matter, citing the students' privacy issues.

In Uncertain Times, We Stand Strong

Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm understand what is at stake for medical students facing any kind of school-related issue or concern, especially those involving allegations of wrongdoing. With years of dedicated experience, Attorney Lento and his team help medical students nationwide day in and day out overcome the challenges that can arise on their journeys to becoming doctors. Attorney Lento and his team can help you. Call us today at (888)535-3686 to protect your future.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to