August 31, 2012

Harvard Probing Cheating Scandal

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

Harvard University officials have likely turned from the school´s crimson to red with embarrassment over reports that 125 undergraduates at the prestigious Ivy League institution of higher learning may have cheated on a final exam earlier this year.

This is reportedly the most widespread academic misconduct scandal ever to rock the Massachusetts school.

While Harvard officials have declined to release the name of the class, in a twist that may seem ironic considering how politicians are often viewed, Bloomberg reported on Thursday that several students familiar with the investigation into the scandal said the class in question was Government 1310: Introduction to Congress.

The class, which is taught by Matthew Platt, has 279 students and it has been reported online that as many 125 students are involved in this particular incident, which came to light when a teaching fellow noticed similarities among a number of exams — take-home exams it was reported — in mid-May and brought them to the attention of Platt. The matter was then turned over to the Administrative Board to begin a review of every exam.

“These allegations, if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends,” Harvard President Drew Faust said in a statement on the college´s website.

Students who are found to have violated the university rules for conduct may be required to withdraw from the school for a year.

The timing of this announcement is also of interest as it comes as students are now arriving or returning to Harvard for the new academic year, with classes beginning next Tuesday. However, it is likely those under investigation will be returning — at least for now.

“The board´s process is still under way and the board has come to no judgments about specific cases,” the university said in a statement posted on its website. Additionally, because no cases have been resolved yet, those students under investigation are reportedly expected to return to campus as normal.

Whether this will make the lists of most famous cheating scandals also has yet to be seen, but compared to the “Top 10 Cheating Scandals in College History,” according to College Times, the Harvard scandal might not rock the world so much.

Consider the 2003 Southern University case that involved an assistant registrar who not only changed grades for 541 students, and had been doing so for money since 1995. In total it involved 541 students, including several who reportedly “earned” fake Bachelor´s and Master´s degrees and teaching certifications.

The site also noted the 2007 Indiana University School of Dentistry cheating scandal that involved almost half the class. While no students were dismissed, in total 24 were suspended and 18 received letters of reprimand — but hopefully few referrals for a root canal!

Additionally, the biggest cheating scandals of all-time — and interestingly weren´t listed on the College Times list — involve a different kind of honor code being broken, namely that of West Point. While Harvard may have its own academic code, that of the United States Military Academy at West Point has one that reads: “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

This code was apparently broken twice

The first occurred in 1951 and was the subject of an ESPN made-for-TV movie called “CodeBreakers,” which resulted in 90 of West Point cadets were expelled, including 37 football players.

Then in 1976, a low time for the military considering the recently concluded Vietnam War, the school was truly rocked by its largest cheating scandal, which involved more than 150 cadets who either resigned or were expelled for cheating on a take-home electrical engineering exam. While 98 were reinstated, the affair resulted in a Time magazine cover that showed a “West Point cadet” on the cover — fingers crossed behind his back — with the caption reading, “What Price Honor?”

No doubt those administrators at Harvard are hoping this alleged scandal results in no top 10 lists, no magazine covers and hopefully no TV-movies.