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Students at Dartmouth’s medical school protest cheating allegations, expulsions

  • 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. Jennifer Hauck

  • Declining to give their names, Geisel School of Medicine students attend a protest in Hanover, N.H, on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. Students are 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.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/21/2021 6:04:08 PM
Modified: 4/21/2021 6:04:12 PM

HANOVER — About 60 students at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth gathered outside the dean’s office on Wednesday to protest the school’s handling of an academic misconduct investigation which they say has resulted in the expulsion of three classmates and lesser sanctions for seven others.

Students wearing masks with X’s drawn across the front carried signs reading “Due process for all,” “Students are not disposable,” “Believe your students” and “Transparency for our community” as they walked on the Geisel campus to Dean Duane Compton’s office.

Once there, they fanned out and stood about 6 feet apart, ducking raindrops as they continued to hold up signs. They stood in silence for several minutes facing the door of Compton’s office before taking turns sharing students’ anonymous statements about how the investigation has affected them, including making them fearful and wanting to transfer.

Then, those gathered took turns reading aloud from a letter dated Tuesday that some 160 students signed and addressed to students, faculty, staff and alumni members of the Geisel community.

“We continue to be deeply concerned about the well-being and futures of our classmates, peers, and friends,” the letter said. “A medical school is nothing without its students, but many of us are afraid to engage for fear of retaliation. This process has been intentionally isolating, alienating, and has gaslit innumerable people, as evidenced by the dearth of information given both to students implicated and the remainder of the Geisel community.”

The letter describes the timeline of the investigation as the students understand it, which is that in January a Geisel faculty member observed a student using Canvas, the online program the school uses to share course materials, while the student was taking a closed-book exam using a different program called ExamSoft. The faculty member’s observation was then forwarded to the Geisel committee in charge of assessing allegations of academic misconduct, the Committee on Student Performance and Conduct.

As a result, the CSPC conducted an investigation going back to the beginning of the academic year evaluating when data logs from the two programs indicated that first- and second-year students were using both at once. Early on, the investigation included roughly 40 students but as it went on that number narrowed to 17 who were notified in March of the cheating allegations, the students wrote.

Geisel admits just 92 students each year to its four-year program.

Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence declined via email to detail the outcome of the CSPC’s investigations other than to say that 10 notifications of a decision went out to students this past week, “including multiple cases in which students admitted to the conduct in question.”

The protesting students, several of whom declined to identify themselves, say those accused were given just two days to gather data to refute the cheating accusations and that when they were interviewed by the committee their faculty support person was not allowed to speak. They also said that students who had the allegations dismissed had the advantage of access to a data analysis and/or a lawyer.

The students also said that some of the accused felt coerced into admitting to the allegations after they said administrators told them they would face lesser penalties if they showed remorse. Along with the three expulsions, seven other students face sanctions that range from suspension to a failing grade in a class to forced repeats of a year, according to the letter. The punishments would also be reflected in the students’ records, which could affect their job hunt when they graduate.

The students also said a new social media policy Geisel issued earlier this month further isolated students from each other, but Dartmouth officials have said the timing of the policy’s enactment was coincidental and unrelated to the misconduct controversy.

In the letter this week, the students asked that every student be offered a full appeal hearing; that confessions to the allegations be disregarded; that the “informational liaison” to that committee be replaced by another faculty member; that advocates chosen by the students be allowed to speak; that successful appeals not be recorded on students’ transcripts; that students be allowed to attend classes while the appeals process continues; and that the school seek a third-party analysis of the data involved in the investigations.

Geisel and Dartmouth officials have stood by the process they used to determine whether or not students cheated, while declining to provide details about the outcomes citing student privacy concerns.

“Dartmouth is committed to the honor code and to the integrity of the CSPC review process,” Lawrence said.

She noted that an appeal process is available to students “with concerns that meet the criteria for consideration” and that the outcomes “will not be finalized until appeals have been heard.”

Students said the deadline for appeals is Friday.

Dartmouth officials acknowledge “how stressful and upsetting these circumstances have been for the students involved, and for the entire Geisel community,” Lawrence wrote.

Fourth-year student Allie Morgan, wearing a mask and white coat, said that she and some of her fellow upperclassmen who have not been directly affected by the investigation attended the event because they wanted “our M1/M2 classmates to feel supported.”

Morgan said she felt bad for them in part because she had been involved in helping to recruit some of them.

Broadly, Morgan said, the investigation “shook the trust of students in the administration to its very core.”

Similarly, fellow fourth-year Stephanie Penix said she has been “disturbed by what we’ve been hearing students say transpired” and the impact of the investigations on the Geisel community has been “devastating.”

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




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