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Sophomore Collaborates on CIS Assignment, Now Facing Death Penalty


Photo from Pixabay / CC0

Sophomore year was going well for Matt Johnstone (W '20), until he made a decision that changed the course of his life forever—quite literally.

The Finance concentrator was looking to learn how to code and opted to take CIS 110, Penn’s main introductory programming course. Penn’s computer science courses stress no collaboration; those who don’t adhere to the policy are dealt with without mercy.

Sometimes, though, the consequences might be a bit too severe: Johnstone is now facing the death penalty.

Johnstone was in office hours, showing a friend a video of a stock pitch he was preparing, when he realized he accidentally left his DrJava application open. His friend clearly did not care, but a TA realized and alleged that they were cheating.

It turns out that the first three lines from both of their codes had the same characters and indentation.

“The TAs and professor literally gave us this part of the code,” Johnstone told us.

After reporting the infraction to the professor, Johnstone had a hearing and was subsequently convicted of plagiarism and cheating—sufficient for the death penalty.

“The students know this policy and know not to violate it. In the real world, engineers obviously don’t collaborate. They do everything in isolation, and that’s something we have to show them holds true at Penn, both in academic and social life,” said Engineering dean Sanjeev Gupta.

We at UTB would like to offer our condolences to Johnstone.