Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Doe v. University of So. Cal. (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 9, 2018)

Justice Perluss is exactly right in today's opinion.  Not a single word or idea is wrong, in my view.

Indeed, I'll go even further than he did.

Not only is there "substantial evidence" that "John Doe" cheated on the exam -- which is the relevant legal standard at issue -- but in my view, John Doe did indeed pretty clearly cheat.

Of course, I know nothing more than what's in the opinion.  But given the evidence below, I'd be a ton of money that, yeah, Doe helped "Student B" cheat.  Here's how the Court of Appeal summarizes that evidence:

"Doe and Student B sat next to each other and had the same version of the multiple choice examination although two versions with shuffled questions were usually distributed in a manner intended to ensure that adjacent students would receive different versions. Doe’s and Student B’s Scantron® answer sheets had identical answers for 46 of the 50 questions, the greatest number of identical answers of all 8,002 pairs of students who took the same version of the examination. Both Doe and Student B wrote proposed answers in large letters in the left margin of the examination booklets that would have been visible to the student seated next to each of them; Student B had written proposed answers for all 50 questions; Doe for 33 questions. Comparison of the proposed answers to the students’ Scantron® answers indicated a pattern of sharing answers: On all but one question where Doe wrote a proposed answer in the margin, Student B filled in the Scantron® with that answer. Only two of Doe’s answers on his Scantron® sheet differed from Student B’s proposed answers for those questions for which Doe did not write a proposed answer in the margin. Student B outperformed his historical average (a “C”) by answering 40 of the questions correctly; Doe maintained his performance level, answering 42 questions correctly."

Sure, Doe and Student B asserted an ostensible reason for writing in big letters (!) their proposed answers -- that way, they could "go back" and "check" them.  But not only could someone reasonable nonetheless conclude that they had instead cheated, but that's in fact exactly what I believe.  And I've given plenty of exams, and had plenty of students circle or write things next to the questions.  Very big writing, such that the person next to you can read it, is very different than what you normally see on exams.

There's additional (and more detailed) evidence later on in the opinion that supports this conclusion.  For example, this wasn't Doe's first sanction for alleged cheating:  "During the fall 2014 semester Doe had received a zero on a chemistry assignment after he submitted a lab report that used another student’s data and calculations. After initially denying the misconduct, Doe eventually signed a form acknowledging his actions had violated the Student Conduct Code."  Doe also stated that he and Student B hadn't studied together, whereas Student B said otherwise.

Then there are the answers to particular questions.  "Doe wrote a single letter in the margin for 29 questions; Student B marked 28 of his answers to those questions, all but number 10, with the same letter. On question 10, Doe wrote a “D” in the margin of his examination booklet; Student B wrote a large “C” in his margin; both Doe and Student B marked “C” on their Scantron® answer sheets."  Plus, "Significantly, for at least six questions Doe and Student B marked the same incorrect answer."

Pretty persuasive evidence, in my view.  Fully justifying the sanction that USC imposed -- an F in the class and a two-semester suspension.

Nonetheless, the practical significance of today's opinion is difficult to gauge.  The lower court told USC to give Doe his diploma, and the Court of Appeal didn't impose a stay.  So Doe not only has his diploma -- and it's now been years since he graduated -- and Doe said he was going to go to medical school, so I imagine he might be there already at this point.  The Court of Appeal remands the case to USC to decide what to do given the circumstances, and I suspect that USC may indeed make the guy retake the class in order to graduate (since it was a prerequisite for his major).  But from a practical perspective, if the guy's already in medical school, that's not like it's going to change things much.  Not of much real world significance.

Nonetheless, the Court of Appeal gets it right.  Clearly right, in my view.

Don't cheat.  Don't help others cheat.  A good principle to follow.

Particularly before medical school.