There is what one might consider a small controversy (and I keep wanting to pronounce that cont-rov-ersy, instead of contro-versey, how I usually pronounce it) around here. A university student (and you can find citations at both the CBC and Slashdot) faces 147 counts of academic misconduct after creating a study group on Facebook.
Normally I would not comment other than to point out that "University politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.", but in this case I think issue warrants more of a digression.
At issue there generally appear to be two sides, one of which is exemplified in the standard Slashdot groupthink and the other of which tends more toward the CBC's own comment pages. The former is the view that education is pretty much free and people should be able to do whatever they like- including form study groups. Moreover, this group would argue, the university is being totalitarian and overbearing, as usual, and should leave its students alone (after all, they have rights). The latter would argue that they're cheating and youngsters these days need to have their mouths cleaned out with soap and learn the meaning of honesty and integrity.
I find both views to be lacking. There is, to some extent, a public policy objective to be fulfilled in ensuring that students do not graduate from university entirely incompetent in the subject matter with which they have supposedly been educated; would you appreciate it if your doctor was unable to tell the difference between a metacarpal and a metatarsal? (They are the long bones of the hand and of the foot, respectively.) There is also, to a great extent, a public policy objective to be fulfilled in granting freedom of association and expression to students. It is, in many ways, a similar debate that rages about the inclusion of illegally obtained evidence; should evidence, which if entered into the court would cause the subject to be found guilty, entered into the record despite the fact that it was illegally obtained? How about if, without said evidence, the suspect would walk free, despite the evidence clearly indicating beyond a reasonable doubt as to their guilt?
That is the argument from inside the box. However, there is an argument that exists outside the box. Namely, is it wrong to cheat? Is it wrong to lie? I have not answered this above; one can cheat and still graduate an educated student. One can lie, collaborate, or write down the names of the 206 bones in the body in microprint on one's foreskin, and still be a good doctor. One can fail to memorize the list of crucial decisions that led to the establishment of the current views surrounding freedom of speech, and still be a good lawyer. Some of those individuals speaking at the CBC's message boards believe that students should have mandatory ethics courses in first year.
I will point out that back during my own first undergraduate year, I did take professional ethics. Out of three papers, one defended lying and one gross professional misconduct, arguing both were situationally dependent and could often be ethical or even ethically necessary. Both arguments were well received, because they were well supported, ethically, in both cases by essentially the same argument- that a greater good was served by ethically dubious behavior on the small scale.
In fact, the same argument applies here. Even were we to assume that the individual present is guilty of gross academic misconduct (which is itself a dubious accusation) that does not make such an action ethically unfavorable without more argument. In fact, one could argue that if he was providing a service to his peers that served to forward their educations and his own, his action was ethically justified despite being gross academic misconduct.
In this case, I think the issue is nothing more than a tempest in a teapot. There is no real ethical argument to be satisfied and I believe the claim of gross academic misconduct is dubious at best and dishonest and offensive at worst.
However, even as a student of law, I find it somewhat disheartening that the question immediately focused on ideology and semantics (as perhaps polarized as the two may be) rather than examining the basic elements of ethical behavior involved.