Harvard Cheaters Return to School
Dozens of the 70 students who were tossed off campus for a year for cheating are returning to Harvard this fall. As many as 125 students were suspected of cheating on a final exam taken in the spring semester of 2012. Some were suspended from school and others faced other sanctions. Further complicating the controversy, administrators searched email accounts of some faculty members in an attempt to find out who leaked the cheating scandal to the press. This has led to an investigation into the privacy of Harvard University employees (New York Times, 9-26-13).
The scandal began when the professor for Government 1310, “Introduction to Congress,” noticed that student answers on a take-home exam were alarmingly similar; they expressed the same misconceptions and even had the same typographical errors.
Students were allowed to use textbooks, their own class notes, and the internet in order to answer exam questions, but were expressly told not to discuss the test with fellow students. Some students decided to meet in groups and discuss the exam anyway, which resulted in varying degrees of cheating from the collaboration. Some teaching assistants met in small groups with students to help them understand the take-home test, which caused more confusion over collaboration.
Evelynn Hammonds, the dean of Harvard College who authorized searches of faculty emails to find potential leaks to the media, resigned as dean in May. Hammonds claimed she authorized searches out of concern that names of cheating students would be published. She apologized for not following the school policy that requires that an individual whose email is searched be notified of the search. Sixteen resident deans’ email accounts were scrutinized. Hammonds could not recover from the secret search controversy, which created alarm among the faculty over privacy rights. Hammonds will take a sabbatical and “then return to Harvard to head up a new program looking at the role of race and gender in science and medicine.” (Reuters, 5-28-13)
The scandal at Harvard calls into question policies about cheating and privacy. Some Harvard professors, afraid of repercussions, spoke to the news media anonymously. One said that Dr. Platt, professor of Govt. 1310, will not be promoted and most likely will leave Harvard in the near future.
There is talk of adopting an honor code at Harvard. Some say it is too late to “retrofit” an honor code because the Harvard culture is one of “academic excellence, certainly, but also material success and fame.” (The Atlantic Wire, 4-8-13) Maybe if an honor code is instituted at Harvard, the oldest American college, that culture will eventually improve — to accommodate the view that material success and fame apart from honor are without value, and make paltry goals for any student embarking upon adult life.