Ever since news broke that 125 of Harvard’s undergraduate students were under investigation for plagiarizing or collaborating on a take-home exam last spring, the commentary has been pouring in, in droves. Some say, Harvard mishandled its cheating scandal, while others prefer to make the point: yes, they cheat at Harvard, too.
Harvard men’s basketball co-captain Kyle Casey is sitting out for the entire 2012-2013 season after being accused of involvement, according to Sports Illustrated. He withdrew from the school in hopes of preserving his final year of athletic eligibility. Several football and baseball players are also among those implicated, so who knows what will happen come Saturday’s first kickoff.
One academic, however, has decided to ‘positively’ speak out about the incident. Susan Blum, a professor and chair of Notre Dame’s Department of Anthropology wrote, “11 Reactions to the Harvard Cheating Scandal,” saying, “As someone who has studied college cheating and plagiarism, I find this case, like so many before and yet to come, provocative.” And she makes some great arguments, including:
Maybe the students didn’t cheat! Blum admits she’s seen students divvy up the material for an in-class exam and then all memorize the shorthand definitions provided by the person who was tasked with answering that assigned question. She later says she got rid of her exam, but I’m more interested in hearing why teachers even assign take-home exams in the first place. Argue what you will, but the format just lends itself to cheating.
What’s wrong with collaborating? Isn’t the peer-to-peer style the way to teach these days? And if you’re going to let your students loose out into freedom of their dorm rooms and respective libraries with a test in hand, don’t you expect some ‘tutoring,’ if you will?
It is possible that Harvard students felt entitled to succeed no matter what. Not everyone’s bound to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, but they sure will try to be.
Everybody is happy when Harvard misses the mark. Because it’s true — the oldest institution of higher learning in the country shouldn’t be making mistakes, right? Every school wants to be ranked the number one national university.
Students everywhere are trained early on to attempt to “get something for nothing.” Here, they got a good grade for not a lot of work. No, that’s not acceptable, but maybe we need to rethink how we’re talking about efficiency.
If the means of assessing student learning doesn’t matter to students, they will use whatever techniques they can to get it over with. To me, a take-home exam always meant, “Aw, the teacher feels bad for us. He or she knows we’ve had to sit here for hours on end, hearing him or her drone on about the economic crisis. They don’t want to sit here anymore either.” Take-home exams, again, have never made sense, and I have always taken them less seriously, only because I’ve had my textbooks in hand. The only difference is: I didn’t resort to cheating. How am I learning, though, if I’m just copying down answers from a book? What’s the difference?
Cheating and plagiarism scandals make for attractive media topics. This just goes back to, “Everybody is happy when Harvard misses the mark.” Would a community college be getting this much love?
I’m glad it wasn’t my class. Amen, Professor Blum. Amen.
As the Harvard Gazette wrote, “Students found responsible of academic dishonesty could face disciplinary actions including, but not limited to, the requirement to withdraw from the College for a year.”
And while I agree with that punishment — you’re paying thousands of dollars, might as well actually do some work — let’s stop acting like this case is the kiss of death for Harvard and that something of this magnitude hasn’t happened before. An assistant registrar once changed grades for 541 students at Southern University. A former basketball office manager wrote more than 400 papers for over 20 basketball players at the University of Minnesota.
Cheating isn’t acceptable, and this is a big deal, but Harvard’s dealing with it. Yes, they cheat at Harvard, too, but they cheat everywhere. Why not focus on how we can prevent this from happening again instead?
Photo Courtesy of Elite Daily