Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Duke MBA Students Appeal Cheating Ruling

Convicted in Fuqua case cry out
By: Wenjia Zhang

Three international students from Asia spoke out Wednesday, claiming that cultural discrimination played a part in their penalties from the Fuqua School of Business for violations of the Honor Code.

All convictions and penalties brought against Fuqua School of Business students were upheld by the school's appeals committee, officials announced June 1.

Twenty four of the 34 first-year masters of business administration program candidates charged with violations of the Fuqua Honor Code in a required first-year course submitted appeals in late May.

In a case that received national attention, the Fuqua Judicial Board ruled in late April that nine students should be expelled and 15 students receive a one-year suspension and a failing grade in the course. Nine others will receive a failing grade in the course and one student will receive a failing grade on an exam.

"This has been a regrettable time at Fuqua, but it also provides us with a valuable reminder that our honor code is what unites us across the diverse nationalities and cultures that we welcome here at Fuqua," Dean Douglas Breeden said in a statement.

In an interview with The Chronicle Wednesday, however, three students from Asia who have been convicted of Honor Code violations said cultural differences played a role in the outcome of the case.

The students said they wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the case and were given aliases for this article."There is a difference in the legal cultures," said "Joe," a first-year MBA candidate who has been expelled. "Cheating is not acceptable here or in Asia or globally. Cheating is a wrongdoing. We know that."

Although the students said they do not believe they cheated, they said they pleaded guilty because they were not familiar with the procedures of a judicial review.

Joe said in his home country the traditional legal system is based on the presumption of guilt, adding that he did not fully understand the right to not incriminate himself.

"According to my feelings, I felt pressured to explain the [offenses]," Joe said, adding that he did not realize he had the right to remain silent."
Sally," who will receive a one-year suspension and a failing grade in the course, said she did not know what it meant to plead guilty when she was asked at the hearing process"

It sounds like a funny story to me now, because it was the first question I was asked during the hearing and at the time no one explained that term," she said. "For me, guilty is like sorry. I was the third person in this joint hearing, the first two students pled guilty and I felt the pressure so I just followed them."

Both Joe and "Bob," who will also receive a one-year suspension and a failing grade in the course, said they pled guilty but thought it was a way to express remorse.

"In Asian culture, society can only forgive the person who shows deep regret for his doings because the society believes the person learned something from his wrongdoings," Bob said. "And he's going to be given a second chance to be an honorable member of the community again."

Joe said he did not realize when he pled guilty that he was admitting to both of the charges brought against him."I didn't know the serious consequences by pleading guilty," Bob said. "Once students plead guilty the Judicial Board normally have no further questions relating to the facts of the case."

The students noted that all 10 students in their three separate hearings, including themselves, are students from Asia.

Fuqua administrators, however, said cultural differences did not play a role in the outcome of the case."The students who have received the severest penalties of expulsion or a one-year suspension come from three continents and represent both foreign and domestic students," Michael Hemmerich, associate dean for marketing and communications of Fuqua, wrote in an e-mail.

Although the students said they are not sure if the school was discriminating against Asian students, they raised many questions regarding the process. All three students submitted an appeal but said they felt the outcomes were predetermined.
Even before the appeals committee received any information from the students, Bob said, Breeden-a member of the commitee-indicated decisions are rarely changed. "They told convicted students to not have too much hope about the results," Bob said.

"Because the hearing is conducted by Fuqua, and appeals is also dominated by Fuqua people, there is no incentive to change the result because it will be admitting they were wrong before."

Administrators, however, said they stand by the decision of the appeals committee.
"After a thorough and exhaustive investigation the appeals committee concluded with the highest confidence that the lead investigator and Judicial Board procedures were fair and without fault," Hemmerich said in an interview Wednesday. "Convictions were correct, and penalties were appropriate in each case."

The student visas of the international students who have been expelled or suspended will expire June 14, and they must leave the country or transfer their visas to another institution.

"Fuqua will assist the affected students as much as possible regarding visas and will certainly work with and support the students who have received suspensions in obtaining visas for their return to Fuqua," Hemmerich wrote in a separate e-mail. "We will welcome them back as members of the Fuqua community upon completion of their suspension."

Bob and Sally, however, said they are not sure if they would return."If the school realizes the procedural error they have made and changes it, maybe I will go back," Sally said. "If [they] correct this mistake, I still have some hope in this school. That's why we're still here and have the courage to fight."

The students said they have not yet left the country because they wish to bring the case to the University-a quest that may prove futile.

"The decisions are final, the administration cannot do anything," said John Burness, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations.

Bob, however, said he will exhaust all options in opposing the sanctions."After such a tragedy or disaster I think some people will become even more stronger and more resilient," Bob said. "If you don't fight to the end, you'll always be a loser-forever."