Third, it is reckless, posing harm to you and your classmates. The penalties for plagiarism are severe and can include being expelled from the university. If your exam performance seems far better than your class contributions, your teachers will often recognize that. Lying when asked about it compounds the problem and can also lead to serious consequences. Your cheating can also disadvantage your honest classmates by distorting the curve. Besides, a key purpose of the exam is to tell you how you’re doing, which won’t happen if you cheat. And if you don’t care about how you’re doing, why take the course?

People who have studied ethics, or just watched “The Good Place,” will recognize these three sets of considerations as drawing from three major currents of moral reflection: virtue ethics, which is centered on character; deontology (from “deon,” a Greek word for that which is binding or required), which is centered on obligation or duty; and consequentialism, which is centered on the harms and benefits that result from our actions. Ordinary moral thought draws freely from all of these traditions.

To students who cheat routinely, all this will seem naïve or sentimental or irrelevant. They want the best grades they can secure because good grades will help them get ahead and land the kind of job they want. In the workplace, though, you can’t call your fraternity brothers every time you face a problem you can’t handle, and I don’t know of online services that will write office memos for you. Ethics is about living well. Preparing for exams can help you develop skills that are useful in later life. All of which is to say that one person you’re letting down when you don’t do the work is you.

I’m the head of a small department at a large university. My staff is underpaid, and I have advocated salary increases for them. Then Covid-19 hit. By midsummer, I was forced to lay off one member of our staff, and the others have had to pick up the work. Then in early fall, another staff member came down with Covid-19. The remaining members of my staff have continued to do exemplary work, with the additional burden of covering the work of the person in the position we lost and the staff member who has been ill. Meanwhile, the university froze staff salaries and stopped contributing to our retirement, so the staff has actually been doing more for less.

I have always given my staff small gifts (usually gift cards in a small amount) for the holidays, which I’ve paid for myself. This year, in light of the extra work they’ve taken on and the stress they’ve all been under, I would like to provide a larger gift, again from my own funds. I’m thinking of a cash gift for each of $100 to $150. I am not rich, and I don’t make a six-figure salary, but I do make considerably more than my staff and can afford this. Another department head advised me against doing so, as staff members in other departments would be upset if they heard about it. But it’s my money, and I’d like to do it, because I feel these are great employees who have been treated unfairly. Your thoughts? Name Withheld

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