Roanoke College presents ‘The Truth About Lies’

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Wednesday, March 29, the Academic Integrity (AI) Council of Roanoke College invited students and the general public to an event about honesty. The event, ‘(Dis)honesty: The Truth About Lies,’ rounded together approximately 30 people – mostly students – for a session in the campus’s Wortmann Ballroom that presented on the importance of honesty in life beyond the college campus.

The event started with a 55-minute film that introduced several studies in honesty. The film focused on the “Matrix Experiments” of Dan Ariely, a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University. Ariely was interested in the social acceptance of cheating and introduced several factors into his experiments to root out the conditions in which cheating behaviors are most likely to take place. The video went through his experiments while interviewing several other researchers, elaborating on factors like money, social distance and the human brain.

The video also featured interviews from figures who were notoriously dishonest. Among these figures were Marilee Jones, a former Dean of Admissions at MIT who misrepresented her academic credentials, as well as Tim Donaghy, a former NBA referee who rigged several calls partly for money and partly due to League pressures. The message of the video was clear: dishonesty as a life choice does not work out for people in the end.

After the video, a panel of six people sat down before the attendees and discussed their thoughts on the video and on dishonesty in general. The panel was composed of both students and professors at the college, in addition to Judge Leisa Ciaffone of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. Ciaffone mentioned that, since becoming a judge, she has had to deal with three people who have forged her signature on legal documents. She believed that by holding people to a moral standard – swearing people in at court, for instance – people are less likely to be dishonest.

Other panelists mentioned their thoughts on credibility and human nature. Eventually a question was posed: are there moments where lying is appropriate? Dr. Lindsey Osterman of the college’s Psychology Department believed that most people would say ‘yes’ to this question.

Audience members also leaped into the discussion and the topic of the college’s policy on AI violations was brought to the table. The debate between rehabilitation and punishment was discussed; most panelists agreed that some form of determent needed to take place, but they also believed that an honor code, instilled in students as early as freshman year, would hold students to a higher standard.

The event formed just one part of a larger, ongoing discussion about campus policies and integrity in general. Matt Johnson, one of the panelists and a member of the AI Council, said: “One thing we talked about that I think is really important – and a conversation is starting with the AI Council and hopefully with the larger campus – is pledging. It looks like there is some benefit to including pledging on exams and I think this is a direction that the college could go. It could be a positive change.”

“I thought that it was interesting being on the AI Council, learning how can you create an environment where people don’t want to cheat and choose not to cheat when in other circumstances they might,” continued Johnson.

Council members – a few of whom had sat at the event as part of the audience – seemed satisfied with how the event went despite their original hopes for a guest speaker. After a bulk of the questions were addressed, the event formally ended; AI Council members, some college faculty and Ciaffone stayed behind for a few minutes and took questions.

-Submitted by Richard Smith Contributing writer