Pinocchio's Nose

Tom, a pre-med. student, works two part-time jobs while attending Prestigious University. Tom finds his course load for the spring semester very challenging and he struggles to keep up with the assignments in his anthropology course. Tom knows anthropology instructor, Dr. B., thinks highly of him and that Dr. B has a reputation of being somewhat of a softy when it comes to "good" students. So, having missed the deadline for submission of an important paper, Tom goes to Dr. B with the story that he and his twin brother were in a serious car accident over the weekend. Tom explains that he didn't hand in the assignment because he has been at the hospital sitting at his brother's bedside in the intensive care unit where his brother is now on life support. Dr. B is of course very sympathetic and grants Tom an extension on the assignment. Later in the semester Tom once again finds himself behind the eight ball on an assignment...

Consider each of the following questions and evaluate the case study:

1. What is the action or inaction that is the cause for concern?

The cause for concern is that Tom finds himself for the second time this semester behind the eight-ball in completing an assignment for his anthropology course.


2. Who or what may be affected?

Tom's course grade, GPA, and taking a long term view likelihood of acceptance to medical school could potentially be affected.


3. How will they be affected? (i.e., what are the possible consequences?)

If Tom does nothing, he will likely do poorly on the assignment and this could deleteriously affect his course grade and therefore lower his GPA which could hurt his chances of getting to medical school.

If Tom speaks to Dr. B and asks for help, Tom could receive an extension which would give him time to turn in a good paper and earn a good grade. Dr. B. might also be able to help Tom figure out how to manage his time better so Tom will not fall behind in the future.

If he lies to Dr. B which is what he did the first time, he could get more sympathy and another bailout but he could also get caught. In this case, he could get in serious trouble, fail the course and perhaps even be thrown out of college. So, depending on what he does the consequences could be severe.


4. Are there any laws, regulations written or unwritten that may apply?

The unwritten rule "honesty is the best policy" applies here. Tom is more likely to receive the help he needs if he is honest with Dr. B. Dr. B may be able to help Tom better manage his limited time and he may be able to give Tom time to complete the assignment. Today many faculty include a policy on honesty in coursework in their course syllabi so if Tom lies again to Dr. B and gets caught in his lie, Tom could suffer severe consequences including failing the assignment and failing the course.


5. What actions might be taken and what would the consequences of these actions be?

Tom could tell Dr. B that he has fallen behind. If he does this Dr. B could either give him an extension, help Tom learn how to better manage his time, or he may not give Tom an extension.


6. Can anything be done to prevent this from reoccurring or to minimize the severity of the consequences?

Tom needs to find some way to better manage his time. Tom may not be able to see any options so it is important for him to discuss his problem with someone he trusts who can help him. Even if the person can't solve the problem, sometimes simply by discussing a problem out loud we are better able to identify possible solutions and even if solutions don't come to light immediately simply sharing a burden can provide needed perspective and lessen the intensity of our emotions. The person who can likely best help Tom with his immediate problem, the impending assignment, is Dr. B. However, Tom could also consult his parents, his academic advisor, a trusted teacher or a close friend.


Basis for Case Study 1
In 2000, tragically a Columbia University pre-med student committed suicide when his alleged dishonesty came to light. This case is based on a series of articles that appeared about the case in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2000:

J. Hardi. (2000) Chronicle of Higher Education. April 14. "Student Who Was Suspended for Fabricating Twin's Death Loses Suit Against Columbia U."

J. Hardi. (2000) Chronicle of Higher Education. April 25. "Columbia U. Is Shaken by Suicide of Student Suspended for Fabricating Brother's Death."