Editors note: The Palmetto Report changed and removed some of the names of the students quoted in this story in order to protect their identity.
(Rock Hill, S.C.) — As Winthrop University seniors prepare themselves for graduation, a number of students have admitted to paying fellow students to attend cultural events on their behalf.
Winthrop students are expected to attend 18 cultural events, or earn the equivalent of 18 credits, in order to graduate.
The events can include lectures, panel discussions, plays, concerts, film screenings and other types of events.
Former university President Phil Lader implemented the policy in 1989.
“Exposure to culture is an important part of a well-educated and well-rounded individual,” according to the university’s website.
However, a number of students have admitted to handing over their Winthrop IDs (which often need to be scanned to receive cultural credit) and some money to other students to attend the events in their place and ensure they graduate on time.
“I was stretched too thin,” said “Jane,” a recent graduate who estimated she paid a fellow student to attend roughly eight cultural events on her behalf.
“I never had enough time; split between working a full-time job serving 40 hours per week, being in multiple clubs and academic organizations and…Greek (life),” she said.
Jane said she got the idea after meeting a student who said she enjoyed attending cultural events.
“(Jane) found out how many (cultural credits) I had and she said ‘you like going to them,'” said “Mary,” a junior at Winthrop in the honors program. “I said ‘yeah, I do.’
“She said ‘can I pay you to go to some?’ And I said ‘Yeah, sure,’” said Mary.
Mary said she typically received about $5 per event, but some students said they were willing to pay a much higher price.
“John,” a senior athlete, said he was willing to pay his peers anywhere from $20 to $40 depending on the length of the event.
The money was worth the relief of not having to attend “these often boring and drawn out cultural events,” John said. “My reasoning was simple: Pay x-amount of dollars or go sit in a two-hour session after my four-to-five-hour athletic team practice.”
Jane and John both said they knew of at least 10 other people who each paid fellow students to attend cultural events in their place.
The cultural event requirement “is an aspect of a grade, an assignment towards graduation, so cultural events are a requirement for graduation,” said Bethany Marlowe, assistant vice president and dean of students.
“If someone cheats in attendance in cultural events then it would be a violation of our code of student conduct and they would be charged with academic misconduct,” she said.
Marlowe said she has dealt with students going to cultural events for their friends as a way of “helping out” in the past, but she has never heard of payment being offered.
“I am appalled. I just think cultural events are there for a really important purpose; it’s there for your education,” Marlowe said. “We talk about being inclusive and we talk about being a diverse community and if you’re not willing to branch out and experience culture in other ways, than what you’re used to, then your education is deficient.”
According to Marlowe, if caught, the violation could become part of a student’s academic record and depending on the seriousness, “the consequences would be consistent with whatever the violation was.”
The consequences could include a warning and being required to complete an assignment involving academic integrity or suspension, she said.
Students said that they didn’t realize the extent of the consequences facing both the person who paid and the person who accepted the payment.
“I assume academic probation, deducting scholarship money and even a chance of getting expelled are forms of punishment,” John said.
However, Mary said the $5 she was earning to attend cultural events isn’t worth the risk of being suspended.
“I’m not 100 percent sure what the consequences would be, but if it had anything to do with plagiarism; that freaks me out and I didn’t realize it would apply to cultural events,” she said.
Marlowe said she hopes students will hold one another accountable, once they recognize the purpose of the cultural credits and the potential consequences of asking others to attend on their behalf.
“If you want your degree to mean something, then you have to uphold the integrity of the institution,” said Marlowe. “It undermines the integrity of the institution, allowing that kind of behavior to go on.”