Do I Have to Turn In a Student I Caught Cheating?

Question: If I caught a student cheating, but he’d lose a scholarship to a good college if I turn him in, should I look the other way? He is poor and from the inner city.

This is a complex moral dilemma. Catholic moral teaching is that one cannot do evil that good may come of it — thus in spite of his noble goal of going on to college, the student’s cheating cannot be justified. Similarly, no matter how noble your goal of ensuring his scholarship, you cannot justify overlooking his dishonesty. However, the Church also recognizes that any moral act is comprised of the object, the intention and the circumstances. No moral act happens in isolation; the object (the nature and severity of the particular act of cheating), the student’s intention (what he truly meant to do) and the circumstances (his life situation) all come into play as you decide on an appropriate response.

Ask yourself these questions as you assess the situation: Was it a minor lapse on a simple assignment or a serious breach of integrity on a more major project? Was it an isolated incident, or part of a pattern of cheating? Is the student really qualified for the scholarship, or has a habit of cheating created a false impression of his abilities? Do you want him to succeed based on falsehood, or do you want him to truly earn his successes so he can be proud not only of his accomplishments but also of his character? Will turning him in give him an opportunity to acknowledge his mistakes and forge a better path in the future? Are you treating him differently than any other student you find cheating?

Looking the other way will only make you complicit and postpone a difficult lesson that this student needs to learn. Call in your student and talk with him. Perhaps you can seek alternative consequences that will allow him to make amends for what he has done and grow into a person who is not ashamed to look himself in the eye, without forfeiting the scholarship.