My hope for students at Notre Dame accused of cheating to be treated fairly are low. My experience with it is neither fresh nor abundant, but it is first-hand. Notre Dame, as an institution, has done little if anything since my experience to raise my expectation of them in any way. The miscarriages and, at times, outright betrayal of the mission that the Powers that Be there have been entrusted with have been well-covered here, and it’s neither necessary nor appropriate to rehash them here.
In fact, perhaps this post might be better suited for the Back Room, so my apologies to our hosts if I should direct this there. Considering the recent news from South Bend, I thought this would the correct forum.
In the Fall of 1998, my last at Notre Dame (I was a transfer student, and took 4 ½ years to graduate, and so finished in the Fall), I took a class like a lot of other classes in the department of my major. What it was is irrelevant, as I think what happened to me could have happened to anyone in in any major.
In lieu of a final exam in this particular class, we were given the option of writing a short paper- something like 4-5 pages if I recall. Going into this pseudo-final, I had something like a 95% average in the class. I thought I wrote a quality paper, and so was surprised that when my final grades came in the mail, I got a B- in the class.
I emailed the instructor, who was in his first year at Notre Dame after coming from a Big 10 school, to clarify how my grade was calculated.
Several weeks later, I received a letter in the mail from this person (I’ll say “him” or ”he” for the sake of ease) explaining that he didn’t believe I wrote the paper myself. Since it was my last semester at ND, he was somehow doing me a favor and giving me a zero on the final rather than taking it an Honesty Committee (as I believe it was, and maybe still is, called). The main reasons for his suspicions were: I used a book that was not available at any Notre Dame library as a source, I used a journal entry not available at a Notre Dame library as a source, I used the work “hermeneutic,” and that the overall tone of the paper was above what would be expected from an undergraduate student.
Zero on the paper, B- in the class, I'm going to have a "great life," I should thank him for cutting me a break and just let it go.
I got in my car the next day and drove from Rochester, NY, to South Bend. I visited this person during office hours, and explained to him that he was not in Big 10 anymore. The book I used and quoted from was from a book I had from a class I took at the school I transferred to Notre Dame from and brought with me because I liked it. I got the journal article from Lexus/Nexus, and there was this neat new thing out there called “the internet” that didn’t require the journal to physically be at Notre Dame.
The next two of his accusations somehow more offensive then the first pair. I learned the word “hermeneutic” in a Theology class I took at Notre Dame. While his students in the Big 10 may not know that word, students at Notre Dame do. And that he found the overall tone be above what he expected should have demonstrated to him that he, again, wasn’t in the Big 10 anymore, but instead he deemed it to be a suggestion of academic impropriety. 15 years later, I’m still dumbfounded by that.
I also took the time to inform him that if he is going to write me a letter and accuse me of cheating, he should have used my full, Christian legal first name of Joseph, not the diminutive of “Joe,” which is what he chose instead- both on the envelope and in the greeting line. It’s just bad form- well, perhaps not in the Big 10, but at Notre Dame it was.
Just like all my previous points, and likely scores of others that he’d come across both before and since, all of this seemed to be beyond his grasp. In his Big 10 mind, I had cheated, he did me a favor by not turning me in, and no one under the age of 30 knows the word hermeneutic- let alone uses it on a paper. I was out of luck.
Up until this point, I was dealing with an individual, not, you might argue, “Notre Dame.” It was when I took my case to “Notre Dame” that I discovered how arrogant, dim, and utterly unaccountable they are.
Letters to the head of the department, the dean, provost and our esteemed president at the time, Monk, were met with either silence or a blue and gold brick wall.
They were pathologically incapable of understanding, or perhaps admitting, that the rules weren’t followed. The instructor was judge, jury and executioner, and I had already been punished. Punished, in fact, without even ever being accused.
The consistent line- and despite how unbelievable this is, this is what I was told- was that once a grade is entered, it cannot be changed. It was on my final transcript, and Notre Dame does not change final transcripts. If the instructor didn’t follow protocol, well too damned bad for me.
Despite this, I demanded that I be able to state my case to an Honesty Committee. If they’re not going to change the grade- fine. But I deserved my day in court, and the instructor needed to be taken to task. After much cajoling, I was granted an Honesty Committee hearing. That was, until they decided that…
The rules were that Honesty Committees only cover current students. By graduating, I lost the right to one.
Think about that for a moment.
Ultimately, I dropped it. You can’t fight Stupid and Arrogant, especially when Stupid and Arrogant answer to no one.
So will these kids get a fair shake? I’m not hopeful that they will. They could have chosen to do the right thing for me, simply because it was the right thing, and no one would have ever known about it. If these students truly did nothing wrong, and ND does the right thing, ESPN and everyone else will be all over them. They couldn't be fair when there was nothing to lose, why would they be fair when they have their supposed reputation to lose?
There is so much hilarious-stuff in there. I love how "Big-10" is thrown around like the slur to end all slurs.