CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Harvard University is investigating what it calls an “unprecedented” case of cheating. College officials say around 125 students may have shared answers and plagiarized on a final exam.
This is not what a brand-new class of carefree 18-year-olds expected to be talking about as they went through freshman orientation Friday.
“One of my friends even called me and said, ‘Oh, I heard Harvard had this big cheating scandal, have you heard about it?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah because they e-mailed everyone,’ ” said incoming freshman Megan Monteleone. She says cheating is not what she came here to put on her resume.
“Everyone is always looking for something to put Harvard down with, it feels,” Monteleone said. ”I just hope that it’s not going to take precedence.”
Cheating is not new at Harvard. Ted Kennedy was famously kicked out for a year for getting someone else to take his Spanish test. This, however, is the biggest cheating scandal in memory.
Harvard officials say roughly half of the students in a single course apparently copied each other or collaborated on a take-home exam last spring. They were supposed to work on their own. A teaching assistant noticed consistencies between them and the professor reported the students to the administration.
“Academic integrity issues are something the university considers a bedrock of the educational mission of a place like Harvard,” said Christine Heenan, an administration vice-president.
Heenan says the students whose work is being questioned must report to a review board. Those found responsible could be suspended up to a year. Heenan says the allegations are an opportunity to review Harvard’s standards.
“What appears to be a potentially large number in one class does raise concerns about — do all of our students understand and embrace the importance of academic integrity?” Heenan said. “And to reinforce our own view that those are very important values.”
The university is going to reinforce those values by putting more emphasis on discussing plagiarism and cheating and the difference between collaborating and doing your own work. A committee is considering whether to formulate an academic code of conduct.
“I commend them about being honest about it,” said incoming freshman Lana Idris. “And actually showcasing that they are stopping the actions while other universities might turn a blind side to the cheating that’s happening in order not to sully their names.”
Other students are skeptical that there is a problem at all. Jake Miller, a sophomore, says he’s never seen cheating. Dozens of students in a single class? It doesn’t add up to him.
“People are kind of hoping that there’s more to the story here and that it wasn’t as bad as some people are alleging,” Miller said. “Because it really seems to be uncharacteristic of the people I’ve seen, the people I’ve met, and the classes I’ve taken.”
“I’m shocked but not surprised,” said Howard Garnder, a Harvard education professor. Gardner says students’ perception of cheating has been changing.
“Because I’ve been worried for two decades about the thinning of the ethical muscles of America in general and of some of the very best and brightest,” Gardner said.
Gardner likens the cheating scandal at Harvard to the sexual assaults that plagued the U.S. Air Force Academy. He says the university needs to act forcefully to return to the highest standards, so that students know and do the right thing.