Harvard Responds to Cheating Scandal

Harvard University is investigating whether students wrongly collaborated and plagiarized each other's work on a take-home exam in a Government class last spring. Almost half of the 279 students' exams in "Government 1310: Introduction to Congress" are under further review. The course faculty member, Professor Matthew B. Platt, noticed similar responses and drew attention to the possibility of widespread cheating. 

The Harvard Crimson posted an image of the exam instructions:

  Harvard exam policy

The Crimson quoted students who were frustrated by the lack of support in preparing for the exam:

"'Almost all of [the students at office hours] had been awake the entire night, and none of us could figure out what an entire question (worth 20% of the grade) was asking,' the student wrote. 'On top of this, one of the questions asked us about a term that had never been defined in any of our readings and had not been properly defined in class, so the TF [teaching fellow] had to give us a definition to use for the question.'

"That same student also expressed frustration that Platt had canceled his office hours the morning before the exam was due. In a brief email to the class just after 10 a.m. on May 3, Platt apologized for having to cancel his office hours on short notice that day due to an appointment."

An article in the Harvard Gazette included a response by the school dean: 

Harvard statement

The article also quoted university President Drew Faust:

"These allegations, if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends. We must deal with this fairly and through a deliberative process. At the same time, 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."

While the investigation is under way, Harvard is stepping up communications around academic integrity. The College Committee on Academic Integrity also will make recommendations to the faculty to reinforce school policies, and the committee may propose new policies or an honor code.

Discussion Starters:

  • With the information you have, what's your view of the situation? For example, are the instructions clear? Do you understand why students could have shared answers during the take-home exam?
  • What is the definition of plagiarism? How might that apply in this case?