update: my new boss cheated in college — and I was the one to investigate him

Remember the letter-writer who realized that her new boss was someone she investigated for cheating when they were in college together? Here’s the update.

Before updating, I wanted to wait for a good ending to this story, and now I have one!

Soon after my department hired the new manager (my former college classmate), I went on maternity leave, so I got to avoid the awkward 1-on-1 conversation entirely. When I got back to the office, the department head was taking some serious heat for being ineffective at his job, and he was moved to another department and role (a demotion).

Meanwhile, I was working steadily at my current job, when I was headhunted by a competing firm. I start with them in two weeks! And my position will be director-level, so I got to skip “middle management” altogether.

I literally couldn’t have written this script better myself. Some things turn out for the best!

{ 79 comments… read them below }

  1. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

    Congrats, OP!! I’ve hoped for an update to your story, and I’m glad it’s positive.

  2. AD*

    That is a fantastic update, and it couldn’t have worked out better for you. Congrats!

    I’m assuming by department head, you mean your boss, the one you knew from college? Interesting that that’s how his experience in your company progressed.

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Yay for a positive update! Congrats on the baby and the new job :)

  4. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    This is great! If he was that ineffective, chances are he cheated before because he had literally no idea/was lazy. I don’t come down hard on school cheating if, for instance, a person has a subject problem and cheats just to pass to get a degree, or is really trying but has no time- i.e. ten things due on one day. If I were on a college discipline board and that sort of thing came to light, I wouldn’t want to put a permanent black mark on their record.

    But cheating because you don’t want to do the work or you’d rather party? Totally throw the book at them.

    1. JamieS*

      This sounds like you’d give people a pass for cheating if they can come up with a borderline sympathetic response. This is an extremely bad idea. Ignoring the ethical implications how would someone differentiate between someone who partied too much and someone who just isn’t capable of understanding the material so cheats to pass?

      1. paul*

        And, as far as subject matter mastery goes, having a hard time mastering the material is *more* concerning to me.
        Put the black mark on their record, let them move forward.

        1. Jesmlet*

          I couldn’t get above a C in calculus because it was like I hit a brick wall every time I looked at the material. I didn’t cheat (because really… how does one cheat in college level calc?) but had I been presented with an opportunity, it would’ve been hard to pass up considering I was pretty much a straight A/A- student otherwise. If you asked me now if I get even close to using calculus as a recruiting/project manager, you’d have to wait several minutes while I tried to control my laughing. I don’t want to give free passes to anyone, but if the material in question had nothing to do with the career they were pursuing, I’d give them a little more lenience.

          1. paul*

            You’re talking to a man that failed algebra three times, despite tutoring (I failed a little better each time though, yay me).

            I understand being bad at something, and I know damn good and well that a given class isn’t always relevant to a job. But if the point of a class is to impart a degree of competency in a topic, it seems like not understanding a topic well enough should certainly be a reason to fail a class. I wouldn’t give a pass on cheating in a class because someone was having a hard time in the subject.

            1. Jesmlet*

              I don’t disagree, I just feel like it doesn’t tell you as much about the person as others here think. They’d still get a black mark from me, but I don’t think of it as an expulsion-worthy, follow you around for the rest of your life offense.

              1. Parenthetically*

                Yeah I agree. I don’t like the idea that cheating necessarily says something absolute and permanent about your character — I think sometimes it says a lot more about how high-stakes a particular degree is, when it often doesn’t make much difference to how well a person does in a job later. (As evidenced by the people who successfully run companies for many years and are crucial to their thriving, before it’s discovered that they faked their degree.)

              2. Sarah*

                As an FYI, a first time offense almost never would lead to expulsion at any university I have ever worked at. If it were to, I think it would have to be very, very extreme (for example, this recent story of a student breaking into his professor’s office through heating ducts in the middle of the night — adding a B&E charge maybe makes it more expel-able!).

                At my university, a first offense of cheating will typically lead to the student receiving a failing grade on the assignment or in the class (depending on severity), and having to write a reflection on what happened/what they would do differently next time, potentially academic probation. Expulsion is not really on the table until after multiple offenses, at which point I really have no sympathy left. If you’re cheating in multiple classes, you really should not get the degree.

                1. Indoor Cat*

                  Wait, wait, back up–a student broke into an office via heating ducts? Like in some Mission Impossible scheme???? How…why didn’t I hear about this? Was that their plan A? Like seriously, like, it takes both laziness AND dramatic flair to a degree I didn’t think could exist in a singular person.

                  I mean, obviously grounds for expulsion. Absolutely. Terrible lack of judgment, if not lack of character. But, um. I am a tiny bit impressed. Just a tiny bit.

                  Anyway, re: your second paragraph, it’s the same at my school. So, seems legit.

          2. nonegiven*

            Sometimes I did my differential equations homework twice, just because it was so much fun!

    2. Mike C.*

      If he was that ineffective, chances are he cheated before because he had literally no idea/was lazy.

      Uh, what? There are plenty of people who cheat in school while being effective managers and plenty of people who don’t and are terrible managers. This correlation doesn’t make any sense and isn’t supported by anything other than speculation.

      1. Jesmlet*

        Yeah, I tend to agree. Cheating isn’t always because of laziness and your behavior in school doesn’t always correlate with your behavior once you’re working full-time. There are also a million reasons why people are bad managers.

    3. The Supreme Troll*

      I think you’re meaning well, but I have to disagree with most of your first paragraph…and I pretty much agree with what JamieS wrote.

      Not understanding the class subject material (even if it is in something that you believe you will never, ever have to use in life ever again) is a huge problem, because there are some particular skills in the way of thinking & comprehension that a person needs that will carry over in one’s work life when the degree is granted. These are skills that by achieving that particular degree should have taught you.

      Time management is also a critical skill in college. It will sometimes seem impossible to get everything done that is due on that Friday morning. But again, those are skills & techniques that you develop and hone while in college, and is something that goes together with the degree that you earn.

  5. Throwaway*

    I’m so pleased with this update- I admitted to cheating in math in the original thread, but it wasn’t like this guy who just seems lazy and ineffective, if he really is that bad at his job. My parents acted abusively if I got less than any A- or B+ in math, and just on my own, without cheating, I literally could not pass. Should I have been shut out of my college and graduate degrees and professional job that have nothing to do with math, because I can’t manage one subject?

    Anyway, sorry for the rant, but I wanted to thank the commenters in the original thread. I was actually just officially diagnosed with dyscalculia and test anxiety. And cheating out of laziness, ineffectiveness, or not wanting to try seems what this guy’s problem was. No wonder he was bad at the job!

    1. paul*

      Honest answer: I failed out of college because of math and it has massively hampered my career. That still doesn’t make cheating right.

      1. paul*

        Hit submit too soon:

        Your sentence about being shut out of a career is very probably the same thing on a lot of cheaters minds. That doesn’t make it OK. But I also hate the idea that cheating in school like that should be an automatic “Never hire, never trust/work with” thing like some of the commentators seemed to be saying in the original thread.

        Cheating in school isn’t right and it is a black mark, but should it be big enough to disqualify someone from anything ever? Maybe in some cases–if you cheated through medical school damn right I don’t want you being a doctor. But in all cases ever? Seems kind of overkill.

        I’d also argue that too many jobs require degrees nowdays to begin with, which increases the pressures to get a degree, which increases the pressures to cheat. I’m lucky that I’m kind of grandfathered in where I am, but I couldn’t get my current job as a new candidate since I lack a degree–but I do the job just fine.

        1. Throwaway*

          Yeah, I’m a Millenial, so it’s either degree, or work in fast food and the like. What a massive waste, when I can speed-read, copy edit, write anything non-math very well, and speak three languages. I fall firmly into “gifted but learning disabled” when tested. But I could not pass math.

        2. Anonymoose*

          “I’d also argue that too many jobs require degrees nowdays to begin with”

          As someone with a degree, I couldn’t agree more. There are WAY too many entry level jobs requiring unnecessary degrees that are significantly decreasing overall degree valuation and hampering the ability of non-degreed to receive adequate employment.

          1. myswtghst*

            It’s especially magical when jobs just require *any* degree, not a specific / related degree (says the person with a 10 year career doing training for call centers who has a degree in Zoology).

            1. Kyrielle*

              …that seems more than slightly related, or maybe I’m reflecting the chaos of the one call center I worked in, in thinking the place was a zoo…. *wry*

            2. Parenthetically*

              Seriously! My husband is job-hunting and it’s almost incredible how many jobs require a degree in [Huge List of Degrees including the proverbial underwater basket-weaving, “or other B.A. or B.S. degree”] when 95% of those degrees would have absolutely nothing to do with the task. Like… clearly this person doesn’t need college education to do this job. Why are you requiring it?!

              1. SignalLost*

                Because it’s the new high school degree. Generally speaking (and I really do mean “generally” – you’ll find huge differences between my extremely liberal non-traditional alma mater and, say, Bob Jones University) having a college degree says something about the candidate. That they persevere, maybe, or they function independently, or whatever else, I think that’s what the “related degree” phrase in a lot of postings refers to. And I think it’s going to get a lot worse, given the state of k-12 education in the US, at least, which has a lot of problems on pretty much any axis you care to identify. It isn’t hopeless, but given the prevalence of, for example, helicopter parents, I don’t think even achieving an advanced high-school education says a lot about a candidate any more. Or if your candidate went to hs in a district that incentivized student success.

                1. copy run start*

                  I agree — it is the new HS diploma. Standards vary too widely state to state and school district to school district even to have the diploma be a real indicator of knowledge. I think that’s why we see so many HS 2.0 classes in college taking up 1 – 2 years worth of credits to complete. Most majors are 50 – 60ish credits of core courses, with the other 60ish coming from gen eds and your minor.

                  We’d really lower the cost of college if we didn’t spend so much time rehashing HS and doing tangentially related courses.

            3. Yvaine*

              Zoology degree high five!!

              I’m not using mine either, I’m a supervisor at a temp agency which can be vaguely zoo-like on occasion.

    2. Mike C.*

      I don’t understand why folks are linking these two issues. There’s no evidence to support the idea that an action ten years ago as a young adult is some predictor of future behavior or achievement. This is nothing more than a post hoc fallacy.

      1. paul*

        I’m baffled by it too. I don’t support cheating, and I can see how the same character flaws might lead to both cheating and being a bad manager….but at the same time, it was *one event 10 frigging years ago*.

      2. AD*

        Before we all get sucked into this conversation, it makes sense to say there are instances where someone’s character as a young adult isn’t that far removed from what they develop into as an adult. That’s not a wildly speculative notion, and it’s grounded in reality.

        Taken to an extreme, the idea that someone who cheats in high school will *always* be a cheater is ridiculous. I don’t think that’s what Throwaway’s point was, but I could be wrong.

        And it’s worth going back to the original letter and the comments, where hordes of commenters threw up their hands in outrage at the suggestion that the manager’s cheating was in any way a character flaw or something that could be an issue for the OP in her work. It’s interesting to note how things worked themselves out. If he was indeed a poor manager, his chickens came home to roost.

        1. Mike C.*

          Why isn’t the fact that the person was originally caught and publicly punished considered “chickens coming home to roost”? How many other bad things happened to this person that can be attributed to him cheating once in college? Where do the correlations and causations end?

          1. Jesmlet*

            Seems like AD is saying that these particular chickens are tied to him being a bad manager, not the cheating (but I could be wrong)

            1. AD*

              That’s exactly what I meant (his behavior as a manager). I don’t think this subject needs to be this heatedly debated. The point is that however he acts in the present day is what seals his fate now and going forward.

              But it’s also wishful thinking to say that in all cases someone’s behavior as an adolescent is totally, inextricably removed from how they would act as an adult. That’s what people seemed to be suggesting (at least some were) in the original post.

          2. Bryce*

            This makes me want to track down an old friend and see how he’s doing in life. He cheated off me (without my knowledge) in a competition back in 96 and I’d hate to think that’s followed him around all this time.

          3. sstabeler*

            I think it’s more “he didn’t learn from being caught cheating, so now the chickens have come home to roost”- i.e. the original punishment was the chickens coming home to roost for the cheating, while the current situation is the chickens coming home to roost for not learning from the experience.

            1. Mike C.*

              How do you know that he hasn’t learned his lesson? What tells you this?

              Failing at being a manger at a particular workplace doesn’t tell you this, so what does?

        2. Mazzy*

          Yup I’m not getting why this is even an argument and being debated so seriously

      3. Sophia*

        If you re-read the letter, the OP states that this guy was caught cheating “…not just on small homework assignments, I’m talking about final exams and term papers.” Notice the plurals – he cheated on every part of the grading system, multiple times. And he got away with it.
        Why the school let him graduate is a mystery to me, but I can’t imagine a “dean’s star” is anything future employers would know, learn about, or even investigate. He cheated to get his degree, and he got it. I don’t think that’s the type of experience that would lead anybody to change. Could he have changed anyway? Of course. But why would he when cheating got him exactly what he wanted? I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that one of the reasons he wasn’t any good at his job was that he lied on his resume about his experience, and simply wasn’t qualified to do it.

        1. The Supreme Troll*

          Completely true and I totally agree. I really cannot have any sympathy for the department head here. Sometimes, the consequences of reality catch up to your bad behavior, no matter how many times they didn’t before.

    3. Indoor Cat*

      @Throwaway I feel for you. No one should face abuse due to their grades (or for any reason, really).

      I have very mixed feelings about mandatory “core” classes. I personally had a lot of trouble in foreign language. I took a foreign language class almost every semester, needing to pass four semesters to graduate. I took the easiest (closest to English) languages offered at my school– Spanish and American Sign Language. I repeatedly failed or had to drop the class to avoid failing at the midterm. Including summers, I ultimately took eleven semesters, and I negotiated an alternate class (a Latin American History + Culture class and a Psycho-Linguistics class) to replace the mandatory upper divisions of Spanish. Which means that, ultimately, after failing or dropping *nine* foreign language classes, I managed to pass *two*.

      I have mixed feelings because, on the one hand, it seems like I wasted a great deal of time better spent doing things oriented toward my interests and talents. Also, bluntly, I forgot all the Spanish vocab I managed to cram in before each test only months after the class, so the knowledge is useless.

      The only reason my feelings are mixed is, I *do* think I learned something about perseverance. I learned that I can fail nine times at something I dislike, then still ultimately suck it up and figure out how to succeed anyway to achieve my larger goal. It’s something I’m glad to know about myself.

      But, ughhhh, what an expensive and time-consuming lesson. I was more fortunate in regards to tuition than many of my peers but holy hell. And if my department was not so lenient as to let me negotiate alternate classes (the Arts departments at my school are known for cutting slack regarding non-Arts core classes), I’m sure I would have dropped out.

      So, anyway, tl;dr, cheating isn’t great, but neither is the “core classes” structure, and class privilege definitely comes into play when it comes to how many classes you can feasibly fail before you have to quit, which is effed up.

      1. sstabeler*

        I think the idea of the mandatory classes is supposed to be “this is what you need to learn to get a university of X degree”

        How I would reform it, honestly, is make it that there are two types of mandatory class: 1. core classes- ones required for your major- which you MUST pass. 2. mandatory classes- these are classes the university requires you to take, but aren’t related to your major- for these, you must take them, and must put in a reasonable effort, but passing them is not an absolute requirement.

  6. RVA Cat*

    Wow I am so happy for you OP!

    Funny how the cheater ‘flunked out’ in that role. Kind of like how I keep telling my toddler that Crusher might win against Blaze if he would just stop cheating….

    1. MommaCat*

      Seriously, he’s always pretty far ahead when he decides to stop, set up a trap to slow Blaze down, then go on his merry way, but his traps don’t slow Blaze down nearly enough to make up for the time spent setting them up!

      …and to make this relevant, sometimes cheating ends up taking far more effort than just doing it right in the first place. If the manager is the type that’s always trying to find the “easy” way, with short-term goals valued over long-term, I can see why he might be an ineffective leader. Not saying that everyone who cheats is like this, but I think people who are like this are more likely to cheat.

  7. Chriama*

    I do feel a certain amount of schadenfreude here, remembering some comment threads that were all “you can’t hold it against him forever!”, and “people deserve second chances”. I don’t disagree with that, but quite frankly sometimes cheating is an issue of character or competence.

    1. paul*

      It’s always an issue of character or competence; the question is how severe of an issue it is, and if people can change.

      1. Mazzy*

        Can I ask, why have you commented a few times already on this with this commment? It comes across as odd to me that you don’t see any relationship between someone’s behavior at one point in time and another. You’re also setting up this false dichotomy that a person undergoes a complete personality change when they finish college, rendering everything prior to that as irrelevant.

        1. AD*

          I think it’s because Mike C. is generally very concerned with injustice (and in how that represents itself in management treating employees). Mike can correct me if I’m wrong.
          I don’t think the lens through which he’s looking here is the right one at all, but I see where he tends to come from.

          1. Mike C.*

            You’re not wrong in a general sense, but in this case here it’s more of the issue that no one is providing any evidence that the two issues are actually linked. When someone makes a claim that event A led to event B simply because event B came after event A, that’s a post hoc fallacy.

            1. AD*

              You’ve used “post hoc fallacy” at least a dozen times on this page, and you’re using it in a way that’s outside the norm of how it’s usually referenced (it usually refers not to human behavior or the evolution of a person’s character, but in unconnected events being connected in order to justify an incorrect or specious argument that depends on that connection. Not the same thing).

        2. Brogrammer*

          I’m not Mike, but I get where he’s coming from. In this particular case, the cheater ended up being bad at his job, but that outcome wasn’t inevitable. There are plenty of ways that someone who cheated in college could have gone on to be a great employee, and there are plenty of people who didn’t cheat in college but turn out to be terrible employees nonetheless.

        3. Mike C.*

          I’ve made the same comment because people are making the same logical error.

          Secondly, you’re not even bothering to read what I’ve said. I never said that “they can’t be correlated”, I’ve said that “no one has provided any evidence what so ever that there is any correlation”. Like I’ve said before, there are plenty of bad mangers out that that never cheated, there are cheaters out there who are good managers so if someone is going to make the claim that in this particular incidence the two issues are linked, the very least they can do is say why.

    2. Sam*

      This. I work with college students, and there’s a clear difference between those who make an impulsive bad decision out of desperation and those who are unapologetically looking for shortcuts through school. I think it’s entirely possible for someone in either group to learn from the incident or to just change/grow over time. But some simply don’t leave the questionable judgment or character behind in college.

  8. JS*

    Was your former college classmate the department head or just the manger? Might be obvious but I was a bit confused by wording since he is referred to as the manager and the department head separately. If so then it seems as your concern over this person was right in the sense of he probably was ignoring you more out of guilt and being seen as an impostor. Clearly is work wasn’t up to par and he probably got by on the same easy-way methods that led him to cheating. Glad it ended up well for you.

    Note: That said I am not saying everyone who cheats in college would be a bad/ineffective employee since I cheated myself on term/final papers (cheating by not correctly citing/mis-citing sources, not plagiarism I still researched and wrote papers but when you need 5+ sources I just started citing things randomly lol).

  9. MicroManagered*

    I’m so glad the OP didn’t report this person to HR, even if it was only due to a lack of opportunity with her maternity leave. I think the end of this story just goes to show that some situations resolve on their own.

    If OP had come back saying “it turns out he’s the best boss ever and really doing great things!” we’d all be chiming in about how you can’t judge people based on their pasts. I don’t think the fact that he cheated in college really proves or disproves anything about this person on its own merit. He was caught and punished for what he did and it was years and years ago. Nor do I think it even proves anything about why he was demoted. Perhaps there was some aspect of the department-head position that he was not suited for, for reasons totally unrelated to his moral character?

    1. Bryce*

      Yeah. The core of the original question was “my new department head and I have bad history and I’m not sure how to deal with it,” the follow-up is “well, that wound up resolving itself before I had to confront anything.” The rest is just gravy.

      1. Brogrammer*

        Yes to all of this. OP, I’m happy for you that it all worked out and it sucks that you were put in this position in the first place.

    2. Kyrielle*

      Agreed. It’s also totally possible that he spent all the intervening years doing the least-possible and thus was truly unready for this position – we can’t know. But the OP, by not reporting him, has the best of both worlds – he got a chance, and it didn’t work out, for whatever reason. OP can move on to her newer-better position without having to worry about that at all. (And, if OP had reported and this guy had been a vindictive sort – well, all that’s been avoided to. And no, I’m not implying that he would be because he cheated back in college; just that when doing something like this, that’s _always_ something to consider, since if the person is vindictive you’ve just aimed it at yourself.)

  10. Junior Dev*

    This brings up something I’ve been wondering: does a demotion ever really end well? I guess in this case it may have been due to a skills mismatch and not a punishment, but either way it seems like something that could lead to a lot of resentment and weirdness. What makes a demotion vs. firing someone a good idea in a given circumstance?

    1. The Supreme Troll*

      A demotion can work out OK – for both the company and the “demotee” if the person being demoted is given clear feedback on why she isn’t meeting the requirements of the job. If she is given clear & consistent feedback, explained to on why she isn’t fulfilling these requirements, and why this decision will really be much better for her in the long run too.

      Now only if this is true, but her boss could leave the door open to possibly bringing her back to the promoted position when she has demonstrated the skills that she formerly lacked and caused her boss to have to offer a choice between a demotion or a termination. This would, for most people, alleviate the pain of the demotion, but the boss should only put this on the table if it is realistic.

      Ultimately, the “demotee” has to not only verbally agree to why this decision was made for her, but emotionally understand it as well.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It can also work if a person realizes they’re in over their head and would prefer to return to their prior position. In this case, it doesn’t sound like demotion was a shared decision-making kind of thing.

        But I’ve seen it work really effectively with people who sought opportunities for promotion because everyone is encouraged to constantly try to move up, up, up, and then they learned that the tasks required in that position were soul-sucking for them. Letting someone “fail” softly by getting them back to where they are happiest (which often requires not framing it as a “demotion”) can work out for both the employer and employee without destroying morale if it’s really carefully and thoughtfully managed.

  11. MommyMD*

    You want to intervene on a boss’s possible job search based on an open tab on a lap by suggesting names of people you don’t know personally? I truly think I’m missing something. With bosses, I think they can generally handle their own contacts. If I’m reading this correctly he may think you are overstepping.

  12. casinoLF*

    No offense, OP, but this whole scenario is part of why peer discipline in college is just a terrible idea. And honor boards are one thing, but student conduct boards run by students? Nightmare fuel.

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