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Harvard University Scandal: Students Found Cheating on ‘Intro to U.S. Congress’ Final Exam

Publisher‘s Note: Harvard University is investigating allegations that almost half the students in an undergraduate class last spring may have plagiarized or “inappropriately collaborated” on their final exams for a course called Government 1310: Introduction to Congress. Cheating in a Government class about U.S. Congress? Sounds like the students were just doing prerequisite training in order to get a job in their government to me! Furthermore, Harvard University’s prestige definitely needs to be questioned when students would cheat on one of the easiest courses in any American university, but then again, cronies always come up with something new, in addition to the neo-liberal incessant revision of the textbooks and requirements.

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September 1, 2012 (TSR) – Harvard University revealed what could be its largest cheating scandal in memory, saying that about 125 students may have worked in groups on a take-home final exam, although they were explicitly required to work alone.

The accusations, related to a single, undergraduate class in the spring term, deal with “academic dishonesty, ranging from inappropriate collaboration to outright plagiarism”, the administration of the prestigious US university said in a note sent to students on Thursday.

Officials said nearly half of the more than 250 students in the class were under investigation by the Harvard College Administrative Board and that if they were found to have cheated, they could be suspended for a year. The students had been notified they were under suspicion and would be called to give their accounts in investigative hearings.

“This is unprecedented in its scope and magnitude,” said Jay Harris, the dean of undergraduate education.

Administrators would not reveal the name of the class or even the department, to protect the accused students. But The Harvard Crimson, the university’s student newspaper, said it was a government class, Introduction to Congress, which had 279 students, and was taught by Matthew Platt, an assistant professor.

Platt did not respond to messages seeking comment.

A professor grading final exams in May noticed similarities in the answers given by some students, officials said, and he brought the matter to the administration immediately. Over the summer, Harvard’s administrative board conducted an initial review, going over the exams of all the students in the class for evidence of cheating. It concluded almost half of them showed signs of possible collaboration.

“The enabling role of technology is a big part of this picture,” Harris said. “It’s the ease of sharing. With that has come, I believe, a certain cavalier attitude.”

The university, where average annual tuition fees are about US$63,000, said it planned to increase efforts to teach students about academic integrity.

“The scope of the allegations suggests that there is work to be done to ensure that every student at Harvard understands and embraces the values that are fundamental to its community of scholars,” Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, said.

Harvard’s student handbook says students must “comply with the policy on collaboration established for each course”, and notes that such policies vary between departments, from class to class, and even from assignment to assignment within a class.

The news comes as Harvard students are returning to campus for the autumn term, which begins on Tuesday.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean Michael Smith said it was important to act. “We take academic integrity very seriously because it goes to the heart of our educational mission. Academic dishonesty cannot and will not be tolerated at Harvard.”

The College Committee on Academic Integrity was to present “recommendations to reinforce the faculty’s expectations of academic honesty”, the website of the university’s official newspaper, Harvard Gazette, said. These could include “new ethics policies”, possibly an “honour code” and consultations with outside experts, as well as talks in student residencies.

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