Williams School faculty concerned about access to phones during exams

Executive Committee and students debate the risk


Huntley Hall, where the Williams School is located. Photo by Kaelan McCabe, ’21.

Luke Hochschild

Cheating? At Washington and Lee?

The subject surfaced at an Executive Committee meeting on Sept. 23 when Williams School Dean Rob Straughan expressed concern on behalf of some faculty members about possible cheating during scheduled exams.

According to the minutes from the Executive Committee meeting, the concern specifically centered around students bringing their phones with them to the bathroom during an exam.

Is leaving students with their phones during exams too much of a risk to take? Some say no, but others believe measures should be put in place to curb any potential cheating.

Straughan said he believed the best way to stop this alleged cheating from happening is for students and faculty to be vigilant and uphold the honor system, not just for themselves, but for their peers.

He further stated that the faculty were considering pursuing “nothing beyond instructions at the beginning of each exam period,” regarding measures to curb cheating and cell phone-use during exams, according to the minutes.

Straughan said he believed that the majority of the faculty who support this inquiry are “simply communicating to students that the optics are concerning,” rather than actually pursuing comprehensive measures to curb any alleged cheating.

Executive Committee President Will Bolton, ‘20, offered his personal position on the matter, which he said does not reflect the viewpoint of the rest of the EC members.

“I don’t think that the prohibition on phones is necessarily a measure to curb cheating on exams,” Bolton said. “I think it’s more accurate to say that the ease with which a student could cheat on an exam by using a phone made faculty uncomfortable.”

Bolton asserted his belief that students continue to abide by the honor system.

“The honor system is as strong or stronger than ever,” Bolton said. “The student body deserves the amount of faith faculty have in us.”

Ethan Childress, ‘22, Graham Kingwill, ‘22, and Kevin Thole, ‘22, said they haven’t seen or heard of alleged cheating during Williams School exams.

“[Williams School] students understand the opportunity cost of cheating,” Kingwill said. “It simply is not worth the reward.”

The students asserted that their peers value their academic integrity more than a small grade increase.

But Hull Collins, ’21, said he agreed with Straughan.

“Students ought not to have their phones in exams, just as a preventative measure,” Collins said.

Collins suggested a phone box for students to hand in their phones when they receive their exams and retrieve it when they turn them in.

Maddie Weber, ‘21, said that she hasn’t witnessed cheating, but she admitted it could exist.

“It could be a problem,” Weber said. “It would be best to remove the possibility and temptation to cheat.”

Straughan agreed that students are aware of the consequences and are wary of cheating as a result. But he said cheating does not occur for the most part because of the “student’s desire to live with integrity, academically, and otherwise.”

But Straughan still praised the honor system and and said confidence in its effectiveness was “not (wavering) at all” among the Williams School faculty.

“It provides each of us a greater degree of confidence and freedom than we would enjoy if teaching anywhere else,” Straughan said.

Although the discussion could warrant concern from students about the faculty’s faith in their trustworthiness, Bolton said the discussion was purely “proactive.”

“There is no reason, empirical or anecdotal, of which I’m aware that would suggest cheating has increased in the last four years,” Bolton said.