The afternoon light was a relief as I stepped out of Javits Lecture Hall. It was an escape from the stuffy, windowless room in which I had spent the last hour. I have experienced this sensation before, the thrill of being sprung from a state of numbing boredom—the Department of Motor Vehicles, Cablevision, the Verizon Store—back into the rhythm of the outside world.
This time, the feeling had come from leaving Stony Brook University’s Q-Course, the mandatory ten-week class for first-time violators of academic integrity. But along with my feeling of relief, I could not help but wonder what was worse: that I had enthusiastically elected to attend the Q-Course, or that I still needed to find something beneficial to say about it.
Like most students, I had heard about the Q-Course from the brief cautionary paragraph located under the phrase “Academic Integrity” on my class syllabi. I was curious about what this course consisted of, and, as I’ve never experienced detention, wanted to know what went on in the world of the rebellious. But the class offered no excitement, no shocking displays of delinquency to match the scenarios I had built up in my mind, and instead behaved like many lecture hall classes I’ve attended.
One brave student sat in the first row, and the rows become increasingly crowded toward the back of the classroom. After everyone takes their seats, the cacophony of unoiled swivel chairs ceases and class begins.
“Cell phones away, please,” the young female instructor says.
This request has no effect on the student to my left. He was busy perfecting the art of multitasking, playing on his phone while chatting in an undetectable foreign language with his friend.
The instructor addresses the class briefly. “Four classes left after today,” she says encouragingly. She reminds the students that two weeks after the course ends, the “Q” on their transcripts will be removed.
She then introduces this week’s speaker. He is a well-dressed representative from the Office of Transfer Services and Academic Advising and gives a presentation on time management. The program provides statistics about how many hours one should study per credit and a worksheet that categorizes everyday tasks into four sections: “Urgent and Important,” “Not Urgent but Important,” “Urgent but Not Important,” and “Not Urgent and Not Important.” I later learn that there is a speaker every week.
At one point during the presentation, the student to my left makes a gesture to his handout and says something to his friend that belittled the “Urgent and Important” system. I have no knowledge of this foreign language, but scoffs are universal.
After the class ends, I talk to two students on their way out. The first was placed in the course for a “complication” regarding a health issue. He had lied to his professor about his physician being aware of the ailment responsible for his three absences. He does not have much to say about the class, other than it is exactly what he expected it would be.
The second student borrowed two sentences (or “two phrases,” as she immediately corrected herself) from SparkNotes. I ask for her opinion of the class.
“It’s like a parent rehashing things we already know,” she tells me. “I don’t know how the classes could be made more interesting.” I ask if she’s found any of the presentations stimulating. She says she liked one, but she cannot remember what it was about.
To me, the comments from both interviewees were in keeping with my observations of the Q-Course, which is that students are apathetic toward the class. They have accepted the weekly hour of boredom as their punishment, and this same boredom is to serve as a deterrent from violating academic integrity again. But I cannot help but wonder if this is an effective strategy.
The retrospective boredom fades with time. It is something experienced passively, and I find it hard to believe that the best way to encourage students to correct their behavior is through a punishment of passivity. Further, academic dishonesty stems from a lacking in the student’s moral standard, which is not fixable via boredom, nor can it be fixed through improved time management. The answer lies in the elevation of the moral standard.
To choose failing with integrity over excelling with deceit, to take responsibility for a mistake, to refuse the world of knowledge always a click away—this is what the generation is lacking. Without these standards, the Q-Course is an exercise that will continue to enroll upwards of 80 students per semester, sending them off on the same path from which they came.