Harvard cheating scandal: A student or teacher matter?

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    BOSTON — Harvard University, the oldest and richest U.S. college, said more than half of the students involved in a cheating scandal were required to withdraw for a period of time.

    Of the remaining students linked to the probe, half were given probation, Michael Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said Friday in an email to the Harvard community. The school said in August that about 125 students were under investigation for inappropriate collaboration on the final exam for a government course.

    “Every student contacted by the Administrative Board has been informed of the disposition of his or her individual case,” Smith said, referring to the school’s disciplinary body. School leaders will “redouble our efforts” to promote academic integrity, he said.

    Cheating scandal

    Harvard University said some students involved in a cheating scandal were required to withdraw.

    The allegations of cheating at Harvard College, which has about 6,700 undergraduates, led to anonymous criticism from students who said the course’s rules on collaboration were unclear. The magnitude of the cheating scandal, which one official deemed “unprecedented in living memory,” may have slowed the school’s progress through the cases, said Robert Peabody, an attorney with Collora in Boston who represented two students implicated in the cheating scandal.

    “They’re saying they took the time to get it right and make sure everyone had due process,” he said in a telephone interview. “They could have been much more efficient.”

    Students found to have cheated could be told to withdraw for two semesters, or receive a warning or be put on probation, Jay Harris, dean of undergraduate education, said in August.

    Many students went for months knowing that the Administrative Board might tell them to withdraw immediately, and their course work, along with tuition and room expenses for the semester, might be wasted, Peabody said. While both the students he represented withdrew during the semester because of the risk of being forced to do so, only one was required to withdraw, while the other was given probation, he said.

    “It was death by a thousand nicks,” said Peabody, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Boston. “For the students who decided to stay on and fight the allegations, it was living torture.”

    Because some of the cases were resolved in September and others in December, Harvard said it would “create a greater amount of financial equity” for students who withdrew in the term by calculating tuition refunds for all affected students as of Sept. 30.

    The college formed a Committee on Academic Integrity 18 months ago that’s developing recommendations for promoting honesty among students and determining practices for faculty to follow, Smith said in the e-mail.

    Griffin Gaffney, a Harvard senior majoring in social studies, said he’s seen stronger, more detailed directives on collaboration in his course materials.

    “It’s a paragraph or half a page rather than a sentence, and the professor always says something about it in class,” he said in an interview.

    Students with knowledge of the situation have said the course involved in the investigation was Government 1310: Introduction to Congress. The cheating scandal came to light when a teaching fellow noticed similarities among a number of exams in mid-May, and school officials followed up with a review of every exam in the class.

    While the instructions for the take-home final exam forbade collaboration among students, students were accustomed to working together in this and other courses, Peabody said.

    Students aren’t permitted to discuss their disciplinary cases publicly. Some have said anonymously that collaboration was thought to be part of the “culture” of the class and was noted in course reviews. One teaching fellow in the class worked during office hours with groups of students to discuss questions and answers to the final exam, Peabody said.

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