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On The Flip Side

Heights Editor and Heights Staff

Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

THE ISSUE:
Recently, a cheating scandal has taken the country by surprise as over 100 students at Harvard have been accused of cheating and dozens may lose their diplomas if the allegations stick. However, the administration and students are at odds over the definition of cheating because of the clarity of academic integrity standards, as well as the professor’s specific instructions.

HARVARD SHOULD OWN UP:

Eric Kester, a 2008 graduate of Harvard, wrote in an article for The Huffington Post that he wasn’t surprised to hear of his alma mater’s recent scandal. According to him, that’s just how Harvard operates. This doesn’t absolve anyone involved in the recent cheating scandal, but it does show quite clearly that Harvard’s administration needs to put the school back on track.

At Harvard, failure is not only not an option—it’s a huge embarrassment for many of its students. No one can change the huge amount of pressure students feel because of their decision to attend the top school in the country. Harvard’s administration, however, can help ease it somewhat.

“During my time as a student at Harvard, I don’t recall the school emphasizing integrity in a consistent, explicit manner,” Kester wrote in his article. If the administration thought that it didn’t have to emphasize integrity because its students were smart enough to know better, it was wrong. Anyone, no matter how smart, is liable to do something desperate under pressure. Harvard officials should have been making sure that their expectations—and the consequences of not meeting them—were clear to its students long before things got out of hand.

Kester also mentioned that punishments for cheating were inconsistent. This sends students the idea that they might be able to cheat and get away with it. They should know what the punishment is for various infractions on academic integrity, and if they don’t, there’s no one to blame but the administration.

Students told The New York Times that the structure and expectations of the class in question were unorganized and inconsistent. The instructions on the take-home exam were clear, stating that “students may not discuss the exam with others—this includes resident tutors, writing centers, etc.” It appears, however, that not even the teaching fellows understood this, as they gave students the answers to ambiguous essay questions. In light of the exam’s instructions, they have refused to answer questions and referred students to their instructor, Matthew Platt. Platt served as the ultimate authority not only on course material but also course policy. He could have given students the proper amount of information to help them succeed without cheating—if he had held regular office hours that week instead of cancelling them.

Yes, the students do carry some of the blame here. But if Harvard is to prevent other students from making the same mistakes, it needs to reevaluate the way it communicates expectations.

 

STUDENTS ARE NOT CHILDREN:

In light of recent events and the scandal surrounding the University, I’d like to point out one blatantly obvious—and somewhat painful—point. These students accused of cheating? They go to Harvard. Harvard University: the Ivy League of Ivy Leagues. The cream of the crop. Harvard’s acceptance rate has steadily decreased in past years, and now falls under 6 percent. The school only takes the best and brightest, and makes sure everyone knows it.

To hear that the students of arguably the most prestigious university in the country are facing plagiarism accusations is utterly maddening. According to The New York Times, students involved claim that group work was acceptable in this class, as well as others. My question to said students: What are you doing collaborating on tests in an Introduction to Congress class? You are the men and women of Harvard. Is an introductory level class not worth your time? Students in comparable universities around the country are working their hardest every day to simply have a chance of competing with you post-graduation. More so, Intro to Congress has a reputation for being one of the easiest courses at Harvard. If the rest of us can manage to get through our Level One classes, so can you.

On a more logistical note: the claim that academic policies were unknown is not only weak but also a false statement. Harvard has elevated itself as an institution to be modeled. Every school of higher education in the country knows academic policies. In fact, schools throughout the nation have based their academic policies off those of your own University. If the rest of the world knows Harvard’s academic policies, the students actually enrolled inevitably do as well.

In the following months, Harvard students will be releasing statements filled with sweet nothings, “he said/she said,” and bold defense mechanisms to save face. The Harvard College Administration Board, commonly known in the Crimson community as the “Ad Board,” expects to release individual decisions as early as November and as late as a full academic year from now. As a student at a fellow greater Boston area university, I can only hope the measures taken toward punishing these students fit the crime. Harvard’s motto, Veritas [Latin for “truth”], is one of the most recognizable college slogans in the world. Let’s hope they stay committed to it during the troublesome academic trials ahead.

 

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