February 5th, 2013

Harvard: Dozens disciplined over exam cheating

BOSTON: Harvard University said Friday it issued academic sanctions against about 60 students who were forced to withdraw from school for a period of time in a cheating scandal that involved the final exam in a class on Congress, drawing criticism from a high-profile alumnus.

The school implicated as many as 125 students in the scandal when officials first addressed the issue last year.  

The inquiry started after a teaching assistant in a spring semester undergraduate-level government class detected problems in the take-home test, including that students may have shared answers.  In a campus-wide email Friday, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith said the school’s academic integrity board had resolved all the cases related to the cheating probe.  He said “somewhat more than half” of the cases involved students who had to withdraw from the college for a period of time.  

Harvard said that the length of a student’s withdrawal period is usually from two to four terms.  Of the cases left, about half the students got disciplinary probation. The rest weren’t disciplined.  

Some athletes became ensnared, including two basketball team co-captains whom the school scratched from its team roster in the wake of the cheating investigation.  

Past reports in The Harvard Crimson also linked football, baseball and hockey players to the scandal.  

Smith’s said in Friday’s email that the school wouldn’t discuss specific student cases. A school spokesman, citing student privacy, also wouldn’t say if any athletes had withdrawn or say which teams might have been affected.  

The dean said a school committee is working on recommendations to strengthen a culture of academic honesty and promote ethics in scholarship.  

“This is a time for communal reflection and action,” he wrote. “We are responsible for creating the community in which our students study and we all thrive as scholars.”  

Staples founder Thomas Stemberg, a Harvard graduate whose son is a student, on Friday criticized the school’s handling of the probe.  

“If you challenge the entire faculty at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Law School to come up with a process that took more time, cost more money, embarrassed more innocent students, and vindicated guilty faculty ... that could not have outdone the process that took place,” he said.  

Stemberg, a supporter of Harvard’s basketball team, knows some of the students caught up in the scandal and his son knows others.  

He wrote a complaint letter to Harvard’s president in early January claiming that the professor who taught the government class changed the rules after several exams in which “open collaboration” was encouraged.  

He alleged that for the take-home exam in question, instructions to students said they couldn’t collaborate with professors, teaching fellows “and others.”  

“If the message was so clearly expressed, why did some of the teaching fellows go over the exam in open session ... If they did not get the message, could one expect the students to understand it?”  

Stemberg went on to say that while some students “went too far, literally cutting and pasting their answers,” others only wrote answers from notes “derived in the collaborative atmosphere the class encouraged.”  

The class was known as “Introduction to Congress,” and widely seen on campus as an easy way to get a good grade.  

Harvard Undergraduate Council President Tara Raghuveer said Friday that the cheating investigation has been a hot topic on campus for months. She said some students started the new school year without knowing if they’d be allowed to finish it because of the lengthy period of time the probe took.  

The 20-year-old junior also said there are a lot of questions about whether the take-home exam’s instructions were clear enough when it came to expectations about group work. She said both students and professors are being careful to discuss collaboration policies now.  

Raghuveer also said the school community should make an effort to embrace the students who withdrew for disciplinary reasons when they come back to campus.  

“The students who are implicated in this scandal from last spring still need to be recognized as members of our community ... They shouldn’t feel alienated from Harvard,” she said. “This was an unfortunate incident. Students are being punished accordingly.” -- AP


New Straits Times Latest News 02 February 2013 

Students Disciplined in Harvard Scandal

Harvard has forced dozens of students to leave in its largest cheating scandal in memory, the university made clear in summing up the affair on Friday, but it would not address assertions that the blame rested partly with a professor and his teaching assistants.

Harvard would not say how many students had been disciplined for cheating on a take-home final exam given last May in a government class, but the university’s statements indicated that the number forced out was around 70. The class had 279 students, and Harvard administrators said last summer that “nearly half” were suspected of cheating and would have their cases reviewed by the Administrative Board. On Friday, a Harvard dean, Michael D. Smith, wrote in a letter to faculty members and students that, of those cases, “somewhat more than half” had resulted in a student’s being required to withdraw.

Dr. Smith, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, wrote, “Of the remaining cases, roughly half the students received disciplinary probation, while the balance ended in no disciplinary action.” He wrote that the last of the cases was concluded in December; no explanation was offered for the delay in making a statement. The forced withdrawals were retroactive to the start of the school year, he wrote, and those students’ tuition payments would be refunded.

The Administrative Board’s Web site says that forced withdrawals usually last two to four semesters, after which a student may return.

Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education who has spent much of his career studying cheating, said that eventually, the university should “give a much more complete account of exactly what happened and why it happened.”

The episode has given a black eye to one of the world’s great educational institutions, where in an average year, 17 students are forced out for academic dishonesty. It was a heavy blow to sports programs, because the class drew a large number of varsity athletes, some of them on the basketball team. Two players accused of cheating withdrew in September rather than risk losing a year of athletic eligibility on a season that disciplinary action could cut short.

People briefed on the investigations say that they went on longer than expected because the university’s effort was painstaking, hiring additional staff members to comb through each student’s exam and even color-coding specific words that appeared in multiple papers.

One implicated student, who argued that similarities between his paper and others could be traced to shared lecture notes, said the Administrative Board demanded that he produce the notes six months later. The student, who asked not to be identified because he still must deal with Harvard administrators, said he found some notes and was not forced to withdraw.

Some Harvard professors and alumni, along with many students, have protested that the university was too slow in resolving the cases, too vague about its ethical standards or too tough on the accused.

Robert Peabody, a lawyer representing two implicated students, said as their cases dragged on, with frequent postponement, “they emotionally deteriorated over the course of the semester.” He said one was forced to leave the university, and the other was placed on academic probation.

While Harvard has not identified the course or the professor involved, they were quickly identified by the implicated students as Introduction to Congress and Matthew B. Platt, an assistant professor of government. Dr. Platt did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

In previous years, students called it an easy class with optional attendance and frequent collaboration. But students who took it last spring said that it had suddenly become quite difficult, with tests that were hard to comprehend, so they sought help from the graduate students who ran the class discussion groups and graded assignments. Those teaching fellows, they said, readily advised them on interpreting exam questions.

Administrators said that on final-exam questions, some students supplied identical answers, down to, in some cases, typographical errors, indicating that they had written them together or plagiarized them. But some students claimed that the similarities in their answers were due to sharing notes or sitting in on sessions with the same teaching fellows. The instructions on the take-home exam explicitly prohibited collaboration, but many students said they did not think that included talking with teaching fellows.

Dr. Smith’s long note did not say how the Administrative Board viewed such distinctions, or whether the university had investigated the conduct of the professor and teaching fellows, and a spokesman said Harvard would not elaborate on those questions.

A version of this article appeared in print on February 2, 2013, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: Students Disciplined in Harvard Scandal. New York Times Education  RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA Published: February 1, 2013