From: a Microsoft hiring manager
Date: January 4, 2009, 5:35 PM
The information you've detailed on your site is absolutely shocking and very much will make me take a second look at any McGill graduates we consider interviewing (I'm already planning to modify my interview routine based on this). We hire many more grads from Waterloo than McGill anyway, but Canadian engineering schools are competing with the likes of MIT and Caltech. Do they take this responsibility seriously?
My biggest concern is that students in the habit of plagiarizing may become employees who think it's OK to recycle open source into their commercial projects. This could open up the company to horrific lawsuits with far-reaching impact. Sure, we put new developers (and even interns) through training, but it needs to be taken seriously. If a person is willing to cheat on something as fundamental as academic integrity, he's not the kind of person I want to hire
Universities need to do a better job of preparing their graduates for the workplace. And they need to do a better job of failing out students who frankly *shouldn't* graduate. While we can train around certain shortcomings, integrity is an issue on which I'll never compromise. There is too much at stake; we're simply under too much legal scrutiny to do our business in any way other than fully above board.
From: a McGill ECE employee
Date: December 18, 2008, 5:04 PM
Once upon a time, when a student was caught breaking the very simple rules of the labs and computer facilities within ECE, there was no discussion: their computer account was suspended for three days. Once a graduate student, using undergrad computers, was caught breaking the rules and lied about his name. When he was caught again, and I demanded his ID card, the information was given to the department's "senior administrator" at the time and a general reaming was given.
Then things changed...
When catching students breaking the very minimal rules of the labs or computer facilities, I was told that I had to record the event and only after catching the student violating the rules three times I could then inform the department's discipline officer. He would then decide whether to forward the complaint to the faculty. He wasn't even permitted to speak with the student about the matter unless the student had representation.
As for plagiarism, it was so obvious and rampant. All day long I would see students emailing their work to other students, who would then use the change function to make alterations. Surprisingly, they weren't caught. Students openly trade papers, students openly recycled previous term papers, and students were openly doing searches for papers on the Internet, even with professors blindly walking past them.
Students lied all the time. And when caught and reported, just about nothing was done. When caught giving a false name, the most that happened was an off-the-record talk.
Students found running game servers on the department's machines were never dealt with. Students weren't allowed to pull computers out of their mounts yet nothing was done about this when they were caught.
One group of students decided to use a lab as their personal pigsty. I warned them many times, their professor warned them, but they persisted in eating and drinking in the lab and leaving their refuse by the computers. Finally, a cleaner came and complained to me. I called security and a report was taken. Then I had a call from the dean's office. It wasn't taken as a serious problem until I mentioned that the cleaner complained to me. I was immediately told that the students would be called in and spoken to. My complaint and the photos of the mess they kept leaving was insufficient: the cleaner's complaint to me sealed the deal. As you say, different rules for different people.
Twenty years ago there was usually about twenty students that were outstanding, and another twenty that were close behind. Now, if I see five students a year that stand out I am surprised.
There is no respect, no responsibility, and no consequence to their actions. The students believe that they are entitled to a high grade simply by paying tuition, and the department and faculty re-enforce that view.
From: a McGill alumnus
Date: September 26, 2008 3:41 PM
Go man go. I totally support you on this, as an alumnus with two McGill degrees, as a manager who hires people and places great value in University degrees among candidates, and as an impacted member of society. Degrees are not articles to be purchased. I have always considered different universities not to be equal, that some are in fact of a higher standard than others, that there is some intrinsic greater value to a degree from a recognized and respectable school.
I also strongly believe in accountability. That's been a theme in my current work, and individuals must be accountable, be they students, trainees, teachers, clergy, corporate executives, auditors, physicians, judges, parole board members, legislators, or police officers. We are in a PC vortex of not placing accountability in our society. So here I am looking for accountability from the students and from the administration and tribunal members to provide transparency and uphold their policies.
Full disclosure: The writer of the above is a person friend, but his message of support was unsolicited.
From: another Canadian University
Date: September 24, 2008 1:19 PM
Dear Dr. Cooperstock,
I've been browsing your site, "Degrading McGill," and I just want to thank you for going to such long measures in an effort to re-claim academic integrity within your institution. I am an undergraduate student at [...], and I just wanted you to know that I think you're doing a very, very good thing.
Thank you for standing up for what's right.
From: McGill University
Date: September 22, 2008 1:27:30 PM GMT-04:00
Dear Prof. Cooperstock,
I applied as a graduate student to McGill for its reputation for excellence and the high level of research that takes place there. Within my first few days at McGill, upon registering I was given the book "Doing Honest Work in College: How to Prepare Citations, Avoid Plagiarism, and Achieve Real Academic Success" as part of my student package. I was informed that this was given out to all students. At the time I felt morally empowered and enthusiastic to share these ideals with the twenty 3rd year students I was about to teach for a year. This naiveté quickly dissipated within a month and a half when I approached the course coordinator about collusion on lab reports that I had identified between my lab bay and another. My concerns were somewhat brushed off at the time, but in the next class a warning about academic integrity was voiced and McGill's policy placed in the lecture slides. I watched as the two students turned to each other and laughed. For the remainder of the year I continued to photocopy the reports from both students and review them for plagiarism and collusion. At the end of the year I submitted the bulk of the 20 reports to the coordinator as instructed earlier in the year by the coordinator. Each individual instance of collusion was highlighted and numbered for easy review between papers. This was concrete and irrefutable evidence, not to mention abundant.
A few weeks later I was called into the Associate Dean of Science's office. During this meeting I learned "someone very important" was placing pressure on the Associate Dean to dismiss the case. Later I learned it was the Chair of my own department who had met with and had been coerced by the students to get the case dropped. The Associate Dean also told me that he was most likely submitting the documentation to the appropriate committee, but that from past experience he didn't think much would happen as the committee would be hesitant in reprimanding the students as that would destroy their chances of getting into medical school. I have to admit that I have never viewed the world quite the same after that comment. I immediately pointed out that these were the exact type of people that should be kept out of medical school, the whole life hanging in the balance thing as well as the requirement for high ethical character. For this I received a disheartened or placating "I know." Furthermore, he even ended up pointing out several points of collusion that I had overlooked.
Later these same students and several of their peers were identified as cheating on one of their exams and were called into the Dean's office. These students obtained seats in the honours program, and kept them.
One of the students is now in medical school at McGill and a few of the others are biding their time in graduate school at U of T. Society is paying the cost for McGill's complacency. Your approach to fixing the problem is exactly the medicine that McGill needs.
Although your goals and that of the administration are not mutually exclusive, in that you both wish to protect the value and reputation of McGill, your approach is the only one with lasting effects. I sincerely hope the administration recognizes that sweeping the dirt under the rug is not an effective strategy as the world is now beginning to see the disfiguring tell-tale signs. I hope that McGill will take its international ranking of 12th in the world, and be a role model of reform to all other institutions.
Keep the campaign going Prof. Cooperstock, you have my full support and I'm sure that of many, many others.
Former T.A., Faculty of Medicine
From: McGill University
Date: September 21, 2008 8:44 PM
Hi Prof. Cooperstock,
Two colleages and friends of mine pointed me toward your website, as I've had a similarly frustrating experience as a sessional instructor. A few years ago I had a student submit a paper that was entirely plagiarized - cut and pasted from an online journal and submitted as their own work. I followed all the rules in reporting this to the right people (deans, etcetera), only to learn that the student would not be penalized so that they would be able to graduate (ironically, from the Faculty of Education). My protestations (albeit rather limited because of the tenuous and arbitrary nature of sessional work) were disregarded, and I was left with a foul taste in my mouth. Now, when I reproduce verbatim - as mandated - the University's statement of academic integrity on my syllabus each year, I get even angrier at how meaningless these words really are. I love teaching, I have worked with an inspiringly large number of remarkable students, and it upsets me to know just how vast a difference there is between the education I try to offer, and the one the University provides in these instances. So thank you for your website, for your forthrightness, and for your indignation!
(from a follow-up message) I experienced firsthand through the AGSEM strike this summer how vulnerable a situation that can be. But this kind of laxity on the University's part is appalling, and if my anonymous tale can be helpful as anecdotal evidence that this is pervasive, then of course I want it out there. Thanks again!
From: McGill University Date: September 17, 2008 7:59 PM
I'm a student in ... in the Faculty of Engineering. I read the information in your degrading mcgill page and I found the case very irritating. Although I may not be the brightest student in my classes, I do manage quite well in courses that involve software.
I agree completely with your case. Plagiarizing computer code has NO PLACE in our institution....The funny thing for me is that these students... must be in at least their 3rd or 4th year at McGill... and yet their knowledge on their majoring subject is still so limited! I mean seriously! If they're going to cheat, they should at least have the decency to make it less obvious! And what's this? Naming variables with single letters? Hard-coding in numerical values into operations?
If McGill lets these students graduate, they will be receiving some angry phone calls from these students' employers.
I'm very happy to see that we have professors who actually care about their students. In this case, I guess you are looking out for those of us who learn with Academic Integrity. The fact that you still haven't let this go ... is astonishing. I hope that I will be taking this course under your guidance when I will be taking it a year from now.
McGill has given me a lot. I was away for 8 months doing an Internship at a well known tech company and my employer was very impressed by my knowledge, skills and programming practice after only learning to write my first "hello world" program 1 year ago. He asked me if he hired other McGill students at my academic level (U2) if they would be able to do the same. I hesitantly answered "yes"... I hesitated because I know that some students don't actually do their assignments with integrity and honesty... students that don't deserve to have McGill anywhere in their resume.
Too late, of course. McGill did graduate these students.
From: Professor, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University Date: September 12, 2008, 4:58 PM
J. Cooperstock: Your tenacity is admirable and you have my unqualified support. As senior member of our department, I have similar experiences to yours, clear cases dismissed by the Associate Dean, Faculty of Science.
From: McGill University Date: September 12, 2008, 4:15 PM
Hello Professor Cooperstock:
After reading the article in the McGill Daily, I felt compelled to look deeper into this matter. Your chronology of events is shocking, degrading & just plain disrespectful. I am disgusted, but not entirely suprised by the way you were treated by the Administration & the students in question. I was especially taken back by the condescending & menacing tone of the student's e-mails to you. I agree with you that the Administration is all talk & no action: it pervades all aspects of our university. I applaud your efforts in exposing this matter. As a graduating McGill student, I can reflect on the past 4 years & grateful for the experiences I have had (& continue to have) with my professors, challenging me, advising me, & questioning me at every turn: the university experience is meant to be fulfilled with honour, passion & integrity. If I were a computer Engineering student, I would be honoured to have you as a professor: someone who would challenge me & not let these matters linger behind in the dust. I hope you will never have to experience something as horrible as this again.
In my response to the student, I commented as follows:
I share your sentiments reciprocally -- that is, I find it a joy to have students in my class who are there for the learning experience and who are eager to accept the challenge of being pushed to do great work. I'm glad you've had such experiences in your years at McGill but am concerned that the longer our present administration remains in place, fewer professors will still have the passion for teaching that fosters such interaction with their students.
From: Juan Vera, Professor Emeritus, McGill Engineering (name provided with permission)
Date: September 11, 2008, 9:49 PM
You have my strong support too, for whatever is worth.
Some years ago, Morton Mendelsonn, as Associate Dean in the Faculty of Science, proposed to use a program 'turnitin.com' as a pilot project to detect cheating in reports. The program compared the text of a report with published material and created a base for comparison with internal reports. As far as I know some academic staff put time on this and when the project was half way, Dean Mendelson discontinued the effort befor the semester ended.
With best wishes in your endeavor,
Juan H. Vera
Given that Prof. Vera was a former Associate Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, his willingness to go on the record is a damning indictment of our current leadership. My sincere appreciation of his strong stand. I expect that there are many others who share his views, but are frightened to speak out given the abusive responses they expect from the administration. Hopefully Prof. Vera's example will encourage others to come forward. We have started the ball rolling, but it needs to gather momentum.
I noted in my response to Prof. Vera that McGill is now using the turnitin.com system. The problem is not in the technology, of course, but in the administration's (lack of) enforcement of its own regulations.
From: former McGill University student
Date: September 9, 2008, 9:38 PM
I want to commend you for having the courage to speak out against the University and Faculty of Engineering. I graduated from Mech Eng in Spring 2007, and was sometimes completely horrified at the extent to which cheating occured. I won't sit here and be a complete hypocrite, because as a student, there were definetly instances where I copied assignment.
However, I can remember instances where people cheated on exams. For instance, in one U1 class, we had a midterm where the TA's all left the room for some reason, and students began to blatantly copy and share each other's answers. I did not (I think I was one of maybe 5) and the class average was an 80%, I got a 55%. Our final was out of left field,but as most students had done so well on the midterm, they ended up passing the class despite failing grades on the final. I however did not,and had to take the class over again as I got a D...but I sucked it up and didn't say anything as I new it would be fruitless.
As well, as a student, it makes me very angry that they would allow a student to pass because they "threaten to sue". I heard of a similar type of occurence that happened for a final year design project team in Chemical engineering, where one team member did absolutely nothing, and the two other members of his team were forced to try to finish the whole project themselves (which is impossible considering the amount of work) The team got a D on their project, but the parents of the team member who did nothing called and complained to the administration,and he ended up with a C, while his team members retained their "D" grades....
I have dealt alot with the McGill Administration, having been involved in student politics, and can understand your frustration with them. They are always quick to defend their (bad) decisions to save face, and hang those out to dry that do not agree with them (or just ignore them completely).
I take a personal offence to this whole situation of them offering passing grades: I failed two courses in my university career, the one mentioned above, and a second one during the year that I was very highly involved in student groups (the EUS to be exact),was taking a full course load. That semester, I became very ill with bronchitis, for about 9 weeks (most of the semester), gave up ALL of my extracurriculars for the end of the semester to focus on my studies, but I was not able to pull it together for this particular class, and got a 52%. I went to speak with the proffessor, as i had received an unsually low grade on a team project, and explained that the increase could help me pass the class, and that I had been very ill as well for most of the semester. I was not given any reconsideration at all, being told "well we all get sick". But I respected the decision, as it was his to take, and re-took the course. I find it wholly unfair that I had to take the course again, when people who do not deserve to pass, and who shouldn't be passing, are allowed so that the administration will not have to deal with the problem.
I'm sure you've heard many of these stories, and this had turned into quite the long email. But this has been an ongoing problem at McGill for a very long time, and it is being compounded by the fact that the students are expecting 4.0's and whine and complain when an exam is challenging. The administration and Professors MUST take the lead on this to stop this type of behaviour, but it seems to be easier for them to just turn a blind eye and make decisions without taking into account the repercussions.
Keep doing what you're doing, and don't ever back down. I never had the gall to stand up,even though I was quite a visible student, and I'm glad that someone is finally doing it.
From: Professor Emeritus of Engineering, McGill University
Date: September 9, 2008 9:48 AM
Jeremy: Did I hear you on the radio say something about cheating and McGill's weak response to it? What has been the result?
For years I felt that McGill's "discipline" system overwhelming favored the student. It was difficult to make a charge of cheating stick -- the student had lots of rights and an organized defense supplied by eager law students. In the end, profs generally gave up bringing charges. I put some time into trying to change this through committees, but gave up. If there is now some will to try to change things, I would help if there is some way to do so.
Keep up the fight.
From: another Canadian University
Date: September 6, 2008 2:14 PM
I totally support your very gusty stance on this. I've had concerns for years about the endemic culture of pressuring profs for grades, particularly in Engineering faculties across Canada. The pressures are less intense in Science departments, but the culture clash involved when engineering students take a science course is something else to see! I've been threatened, cajoled, and been at the receiving end of intimidation tactics whilst teaching such "mixed" courses at McGill.
In light of everything that's happened in your specific case this summer, it is hard to take any grades coming out of the Faculty of Engineering at McGill seriously anymore. I know I won't be.
A university's reputation is such a fragile thing, isn't it? Takes years to build, and not very much to damage. Regardless of what the official stance is, I think McGill has seriously mishandled the issue right now, and lost credibility at least in my book.
From: McGill University
Date: September 5, 2008 4:12 PM
My personal email account was hacked into. I had not given the password to anyone, but it was similar to the WebCT password that my graduate assistant used to communicate with my students. I found that someone had gone into my personal account, and from that account, sent emails to colleagues and my dean. My first knowledge of this came when I got an accusatory email from my angry dean. After speaking to the dean, I realized I had been hacked. I found the cyber trail and notified the colleagues who received the emails.
The colleagues were furious at me, not at the hacking, but at me. My dean had the email traced by Information Technology (IT) who confirmed to me that absolutely identity theft had occured. IT told me they had spoken to the person suspected. I was astonished they would let this person know this without talking to me. IT informed they could not speak to me about the case and it would be referred to the Dean of Students. I was told I would not receive updates or the results of the investigation, it was not my business.
The Dean of Students refused to tell me of any results. I let the dean know my fear of the hacker and associate(s), and that I thought I was physically in danger, now that the hacker had been told by McGill that I had discovered the crime and reported it. She told me to "call security" if I was afraid. Then I was told that neither IT nor the Dean of Students felt I was in danger. The name of the hacker has never been confirmed to me, consequently, I do not know if I am interacting with this person or if this person still has access to my office and other areas. I have been continually referred to the students' rights, consequently, I do believe it was either a student or an associate of a student. I do not believe any punitive actions have been taken. I was told that if any had been taken, I would still not be informed.
From: another Canadian university
Date: September 4, 2008 11:36 AM
I applaud your courage in speaking out against what is seemingly the standard in academic management. In my own college level teaching career I have seen marks over-ruled, marks given by management for assignments not submitted, but worst of all, a diploma issued to a student who did not complete any of the required courses in the program. The public needs to know these things. Frankly though, I wonder if they care.
Anyway, kudos for your courageous stance.
From: McGill University
Date: September 4, 2008 8:18 AM
Mendelson reinforced my perception that McGill has put in place a huge web of bureaucracy that seems to promote the student-client -vs- professor- is-worker-to-deliver-product-for-sale model. This is in stark contrast to the classical community-of- scholars model that I/we firmly believe in. This supports my observation that the idea is to control the professor. Note the not too subtle reference to him/her as "instructor", a mere conduit in the delivery of the (well established) "knowledge" that the university delivers to the client on an efficient, mass production basis.
Where's the "search for truth", objective inquiry and the development of formal framework in which the members of the university community -students and professors alike; not bureaucrats and administrators who should be there, rightfully, to serve us and facilitate our activities- develop the tools together to address as yet unencountered problems in an effective way? Are these not the hallmarks of real scholarly activity?
What are the technical qualifications of the participants in the "impartial" judiciary process, from which the professor is excluded and rendered largely impotent, to reach an educated judgment? Is there not a prejudicial presumption that the evil prof is out to get the poor student and the benign establishment is there to shield him/her?
From: another Canadian institution
Date: September 4, 2008 1:29:09 AM
I'm highly-principled and have always felt it important to follow the "offical" course outline. I also (unfortunately) have a "short fuse" and have seen our dean often after complaints from students about how I may have talked to them, after denying them extensions or listening to poor excuses months after deadlines have elapsed, or extremely poor quality has been submitted, albeit the "other teachers in the department accepted similar quality work". Unfortunately, my advice to you is to let it pass. You wont't win in this case, and most of the faculty who might agree with you will "lay low". No one wants to get involved or be responsible anymore. Students do not want to be accountable, parents don't either. There was an article about Harvard about a year ago. Too many students were receiving A+, thus debasing the quality of what the grade actually meant. Most students don't write or read properly, thus [my own school's] unofficial policy of having a 5% literacy component in all courses. I had to accede to students "wishes" of having calculators in one of my classes because they couldn't do 4/8 squared (1/4) based on a simple mathematical equation for the "Inverse Square Law" as to how a point light source behaves.
From: McGill University
Date: September 3, 2008 2:37:01 PM
I read your piece and have nothing but praise for your efforts. It is absolutely imperative that the Administration not be permitted to interfere in academic evaluation except if there is a gross injustice which can be clearly demonstrated. Keep as much pressure on as you can. Hopefully you will hear from others who have a shared experience.
With my admiration
From: McGill University
Date: Wednesday, September 03, 2008 11:29 AM
happened to hear you on the radio, and then spotted a piece about you in a daily bulletin i get on education. just wanted to let you know that i'm probably not the only one at mcgill who deeply applauds your whistle-blowing and admires your courage in taking on how plagiarism is handled here. let me know if there is any way in which i can offer more than moral support.
From: a US institution
Date: Wed, Sep 3, 2008 at 11:25 AM
Moreover when students are caught cheating a lot of times the incident is not even referred to me, and a lot of times the upper level of management frowns on the faculty that does makes referrals. No you are not crazy. But you are in the minority as am I and hopefully you can ascend to another institution that appreciates your skill, your tenacity to do the right thing and continue to embrace the passion for teaching students to be academic but generally to be "good" people.
From: McGill University
Date: Wednesday, September 03, 2008 11:19 AM
After all the efforts we make in the university to warn students about plagiarism, this is a depressing bit of reality. Bravo to Prof. Cooperstock.
From: McGill University
Date: Wednesday, September 03, 2008 10:25 AM
I saw the article and I wanted to let you know that it is really good that someone stands up for our standards. I have heard many profs complain about the declining standards of students in Engineering. We should maintain rigorous standards for such Faculties as medicine and Engineering. Jeez... these are professional people who will run our lives in one way or another and be very well paid for it... this is a privilege that should be earned and not just handed out to those who know how to make a fuss! Thanks for your dedication.
From: McGill University
Date: September 3, 2008 7:29:24 AM
Read your blog yesterday. I've had one experience in grade jacking in my entire career. However in that case my Dean and Chair at that time approached me with great deference and tact and explained their intention and reasons for it and asked if I would up the grade from B to A (there were no ridiculous +/- in those days; so vulnerable to grade nibbling). The student was worthy but had slacked in my course. I refused and they said they were doing it anyway. All was done in a most open manner and with gentlemanly politeness. "My, how things have changed!", that's a quote from and title of the 1996 McGill Fall Convocation address.... It speaks not so much of dirty politics as of how the tenor and philosophy of university management have evolved to the current sad state.