I discovered cheating in my professional ethics course during my first semester of teaching. The irony shouldn’t be lost. But it was so much more than just cheating; this was a vocational existential shock. This was in my first semester in a new career path as I was making the shift from industry and law to loftier goals in academics. So, this cheating event was no less oracular than seeing owls in the daytime.
To my detriment, I must confess some (much) naïveté to the practice of cheating. As a Mexican (grand)momma’s boy, an experienced Catholic altar boy, a Navy NCO (noncommissioned officer), and as an oath-sworn lawyer, cutting corners carries the connotation of shame, dishonor, and the very real possibility of burning in hell for eternity. Furthermore, I unwittingly functioned on the assumption that everyone operates on my same code. This cheating event made me question what I was doing; I was weighing whether to return to the business world where the predators are easily spotted or staying in education. I obviously chose the latter; and needless to say, my pedagogy needed to be amended after realizing that there were wolves acting as lambs in my flock.
Serendipitously, the poison was the antidote in this case as the very subject matter of ethics that I was teaching in the course held the cure. I was literally teaching the redeeming concept of my own crisis, which had originally attenuated the sin. My ethics course came to a place where we all define our ethical code. Not to get into the weeds too deep here, but there are 5 or 6 big philosophies of personal ethics. Personally, I know that I align with the Platonic thought of virtue where the thought is we make ethical mistakes but we strive to be better. Transversely, in a contemporary ethics branch, there is the philosophy of relativism, which holds that morality is relative to the norms of one’s group or tribe or society or (oh yes) class.
Thus, my reflection and reaction to a potentially disparaging situation was to refuse my Platonic judgments of moral superiority with the urge of throwing all sinners to the flames. Rather, I adopted the thought that we are all are relativists and in the “society” of this face-to-face spring 2013 second 8-week session of BA 431: Professional Ethics, I would raise the ethical bar by including honor oaths before tests, give real world case studies of ethical gray area, and challenge my students to adopt virtue. The exam timers stopped clocking common start/stop times, the football players stopped getting the exact same scores, and one student’s final reflection on formulating his own ethical code was ultimately soul-redeeming.