Dartmouth apologizes, drops cheating charges against medical students

  • Geisel School of Medicine students staged a silent protest outside the dean's office in Hanover, N.H., on Wednesday, April. 21, 2021. Students were protesting the school's handling of an academic misconduct investigation. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

  • Outside the Geisel School of Medicine dean's office on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 in Hanover, N.H., students take turns reading messages from classmates during a protest about school's handling of an academic misconduct investigation. The student declined to give his name. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/10/2021 4:24:34 PM
Modified: 6/11/2021 3:52:50 PM

HANOVER — The Geisel School of Medicine has dismissed all honor code charges against students accused of academic misconduct this winter, the dean said in an email message to the school community.

“I have apologized to the students for what they have been through and believe dismissal of the charges is the best path forward,” Geisel Dean Duane Compton wrote in his Wednesday email.

The decision to dismiss the charges comes following a monthslong investigation that initially resulted in a Geisel committee recommending that three students be expelled and several others received lesser sanctions.

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit focused on free speech, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit digital rights group, had asserted that there was not enough evidence to charge the students and also raised concerns about student reports of serious due process violations.

“It was a process in which Dartmouth appeared to gravely misunderstand, or willfully ignore, the highly complicated data it used as the basis of its accusations against the students,” FIRE wrote in a Thursday news release.

Geisel students said the medical school was misinterpreting data about their usage of Canvas, an online course management system used by Dartmouth, and Compton’s email said the reversal on the punishments came “upon further review and based on new information received from our learning management system provider.”

In January, the school first launched the investigation into students cheating on closed-book exams conducted online by allegedly accessing other web-based course materials at the same time. Students have said that some 40 students were initially involved in the investigation, but that narrowed to 17 who were notified of the cheating allegations in March.

In April, school officials sent out 10 notifications of a decision, “including multiple cases in which students admitted to the conduct in question,” a Dartmouth spokeswoman said at the time.

In addition to the three expulsions, the other seven students faced a range of consequences including suspension, class failures, being forced to repeat a year and having these decisions published on a portion of the residency application, according to a summary of the investigation that Geisel students included in an open letter to the community in April.

Geisel had offered the 10 students who received sanctions in April an opportunity to appeal.

In addition to faulting Geisel for misinterpreting the electronic information used to illustrate the students’ alleged wrongdoing, FIRE said, Geisel failed to follow due process, giving accused students less than 48 hours to prepare a defense and then denying the students access to the data they needed to exonerate themselves. Some accused students also reported being coerced into confessing after Geisel administrators told them that admitting guilt — even if they were innocent — would lead to lighter punishments, FIRE said.

Compton, in his email, pledged that Geisel would work to improve its honor code review process, especially in a remote learning environment. To start, Compton said the school will review a proposal for open-book exams in pre-clinical courses; review the policy on pre-clinical exam remediation for reinstatement; hold in-person exams for all students during the next academic year; and improve communication between the administration and students.

“We must ensure our processes live up to our high standards when it comes to maintaining academic honor and integrity,” he said. “We will learn from this and we will do better.”

For its part, FIRE said it would “monitor Dartmouth’s policies to ensure that, from now on, students can trust them.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.


An earlier version of this story was unclear on the status of sanctions and appeals involving Geisel School of Medicine students who were accused of academic misconduct. The students were offered the opportunity to appeal in April. Now that all charges against them have been dismissed, the appeals process is moot.

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