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Dartmouth’s Geisel medical school investigates alleged cheating

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/7/2021 9:46:20 PM
Modified: 4/7/2021 9:46:21 PM

HANOVER — Several students at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth are under investigation for allegedly accessing course materials online while they were taking closed-book exams remotely, school officials confirmed this week.

The investigations began earlier this calendar year when an “eyewitness” who was using Canvas, an online course management system used by Dartmouth and other schools, told Geisel administrators that students appeared to be using the system at the same time exams were being administered, Geisel Dean Duane Compton said in a virtual town hall with students on Monday.

“This is a circumstance that none of us thought we would be in,” Compton said in a phone interview on Wednesday. It’s “not something we take lightly.”

The initial report was forwarded to the Committee on Student Performance and Conduct, which is composed of Geisel faculty, medical students and a community member and tasked with investigating possible violations of the school’s honor code and determining outcomes.

The CSPC, with the assistance of the school’s information technology staff, conducted a review of the use of the Canvas system during exams throughout this academic year, Compton said.

Compton on Wednesday declined to say how many students have been accused because Geisel is a small school, which admits 92 students each year, and he doesn’t want the affected students to be identified. He said those involved are first- and second-year medical students and that “the number of students under consideration has gotten smaller at each stage.”

People with knowledge of the situation have told the Valley News that some 20 students may have been caught up in the initial investigation.

Students found to have violated the honor code may be required to retake the exams or face more serious sanctions, Compton said during the town hall, according to a video recording of the session.

A letter the committee sent to at least one of the affected students and which was obtained by the Valley News with the name redacted threatened “suspension or separation” from the school.

“It depends on what the individual student was found responsible for,” Compton said on Monday. “It’s not one-size-fits-all.”

The investigations also have been a popular subject of discussion on social media, including on an Instagram page @concernedstudent1797 where affected students have shared anonymously how the experience has negatively affected their physical and mental health, as well as their ability to concentrate on their work.

Posts there suggest that some students say they felt pressured into admitting wrongdoing, while at least one student may have been exonerated after presenting technical data that indicated they didn’t access material improperly.

Compton, during the town hall, acknowledged the challenges the ongoing review has presented for the Geisel community.

“I recognize a great amount of distrust from the students with respect to the administration and I feel the need to take steps to restore that trust,” he said.

Both during the town hall and on the Instagram page, students shared suggestions as to how the process might be improved.

One urged Geisel to increase involvement of student advocates versed in the honor code review process so they may help accused students better understand it, while others called for an independent review of the school’s process.

“I’m open to the discussion about an independent party, but I need to, we need to think carefully about the structure of that and what the purview of an independent party would have,” Compton said during the town hall.

In the interview on Wednesday, Compton said involving a third party would not change the fact that sometimes students disagree with the outcome of a case.

For now at least, Geisel has begun electronic proctoring of its exams, he said.

But, he said, “I still have faith in the honor code. Most of our students are actually doing things appropriately.”

There is no set time when the review will be complete, but Compton said he is “hopeful” the school will be able get decisions out to the accused students soon. A subsequent appeal process could add a few more weeks, he said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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