Associate News Editor
On May 22, students enrolled in Finance 311 with Chris Lynch, a professor of finance at the university, found out that their final exam grades would be temporarily held, pending an investigation into “potential academic integrity violations.”
“I wanted to let you know that the release of the final exam scores and overall course grades for FINC311 has been delayed pending an investigation into potential academic integrity violations on the final exam,” Lynch said in an email sent out to his students.
The investigation was prompted by the fact that “all of the exam questions were loaded onto external websites while the exam was in progress,” Lynch stated. He also reiterated the course’s academic integrity policies that were sent to students multiple times through Canvas and shortly before the final.
According to Lynch’s email, there was a particular question — the email did not specify which one — in which there was “a significantly lower percentage” of students who answered it correctly. The exam questions were reportedly found on an unspecified “external website,” and the website’s “expert” answer to the question was incorrect. Many students then copied this incorrect answer on the exam and submitted it.
The Review was unable to independently pinpoint the “external website” in question. However, a student that wished to remain anonymous confirmed that the external website was Chegg, an education technology company based in Santa Clara, California. It is primarily used as a study resource, as it allows users to check odd numbered questions, which most textbooks do not print.
The Review was also unable to confirm the exact question that Lynch flagged, but the anonymous student confirmed it was one of the math problems on the exam.
Lynch encouraged any students who violated the academic integrity policies to come forward and contact him via email. He incentivized reduced academic penalties for anyone who confessed prior to the completion of the investigation.
In response to interview requests made by The Review, Andrea Boyle Tippett, the director of external relations for the Office of Communications and Marketing, redirected the inquiry to the Office of Student Conduct (OSC)’s Student Code, which has a section dedicated entirely to academic dishonesty.
“The University takes instances of violation of the Code of Conduct seriously,” Boyle Tippett said in an email. “It would not be appropriate to comment on specific alleged instances of academic dishonesty as it could potentially endanger students’ privacy rights.”
The 96-page Student Code contains three and a half pages dedicated to academic integrity.
“A faculty member, in consultation with a representative from the Office of Student Conduct, will decide under which option the incident is best filed under and what specific academic penalty should be applied,” the Student Code reads.
The Student Code addresses plagiarism, cheating, fabrication and academic misconduct and goes into detail about what constitutes each violation. The university’s definition of “cheating” is verbatim, “an act or an attempted act of deception by which a student seeks to misrepresent that they have mastered information that has not been mastered.”
The Code goes into detail about some examples of cheating, most involving some form of “unauthorized” use of resources.
On May 26, Lynch sent a second email to his students to update them with the situation. This email had a noticeably different tone to it.
Lynch acknowledged that nobody was prepared for the current circumstances and that “FINC311 is a difficult class even in the best of times.” The sudden switch to an online format did not help, he went on to say.
He stated that many students confessed to engaging in academic dishonesty.
“I know that most of the class cares about academic integrity as much as I do, and I commend you for letting your hard work be the sole driver of your performance,” Lynch said in the second email. “I also know the pressure that students face to get good grades and can understand why the environment might lead some to compromise their integrity. This will be considered in assessing the appropriate academic penalty for those who have been dishonest.”
Lynch declined to comment to The Review, but said in an email that “any questions on this matter should be directed to the Office of Student Conduct.”
OSC did not respond to The Review’s repeated requests for comment regarding the proceedings of the investigation.
“As a faculty member at the University of Delaware, I take academic integrity very seriously. Academic integrity is the underpinning to creating a fair learning environment and in maintaining the reputation of the University,” Lynch stated in his first email to his students. “In addition, academic dishonesty undermines those students who earn their grade through hard work and perseverance.”
A second student who wished to remain anonymous forwarded copies of Lynch’s emails to The Review. This student, like the student prior, was granted full anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the article and that giving their name could damage their standing with Lynch.
The student agreed that the class was hard and that “this was the worst exam grade [they’d] ever received,” but they felt disappointed by the apparent cheating.
“If people choose to cheat, that’s their decision,” the student said. “I personally didn’t, but I don’t think it’s smart to cheat. This is the first instance of cheating in any of my classes.”
The student said that they were “initially concerned” that the investigation would affect the date at which final exams were released. Ultimately, the grades were released on time.
The student added that Lynch handled the academic dishonesty issue well, but disagreed with his handling of the grades. Since the grading is done directly through Connect, the software required for the course, they felt that Lynch could have released all the grades right when they were available and then rescinded the grades of the cheaters at a later point.
The student said they felt stressed out not knowing how they did on the final due to a week-long delay in returning the grades.
“Also, I know that some of us wish he would say which question it was that let him know people cheated,” the student said.
The student that identified Chegg as the site used by some students to cheat was additionally one of the many students who was caught cheating.
“I have a friend who peer pressured me into signing up. We would argue over the right answer,” the student said. “He really didn’t want to study, so he said we should go to Chegg.”
The student said they were “very angry” upon receiving the emails, mostly due to the current circumstances, such as coronavirus and losing their job. They “were stressed” and critical of Lynch’s teaching throughout the semester.
“[Lynch] didn’t teach the whole semester,” the student said. “It was pre-recorded from last year on UD Capture. We didn’t do any new work.”
The student said they found the “grading was so off” that it “forced [the class] to cheat.” They cited the grade weights on the Canvas Course as well as the amount of effort it took to do the homework and quizzes, both worth 5% of the grade each. The student said that if they struggle or get confused on questions, they are going to find a way to get the right answer.
“I’m going to use my resources,” the student said. “Whenever I’m confused about something I Google it.”
The student heard back about their case from OSC, and their penalties include: a 70% reduction on their final exam grade, completing a module on academic integrity, a flag on their permanent record and a $100 fine. They were angry about the penalties and also that another student used their Chegg account and “got off scot-free” because there was no account under his name.
The student voiced their displeasure, stating that coronavirus has been the hardest event that anyone their age has gone through.
“Don’t trust all the faculty,” the student said. “He screws over most of his class.”
As of the time of publication of this article, there is no confirmed time frame for the investigation’s completion or a date for the students’ hearings.