Harvard cheating probe under way for about 125

September 2012

Harvard University pennants in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

About 125 Harvard University undergraduates are being investigated for cheating on a final exam earlier this year, the most widespread academic misconduct scandal known at the school, college officials said.

All of the students, who were in a class of more than 250, will face hearings before Harvard’s Administrative Board, Jay Harris, dean of undergraduate education at the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based school, said today in an interview.

Harvard professors probed the incident with months of reading through the take-home exams beginning in May, Harris said. Students found to have violated university rules may be required to withdraw from school for a year, Harvard said in a statement.

“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.

The Administrative Board’s actions are confidential, and Harvard won’t reveal the identity of the students or the name of the course, Harris said. Harvard is using the incident to increase student awareness of the importance of academic integrity, he said.

“This is a national problem – an international problem – a technologically enabled problem,” he said.

Government Class

Several students familiar with the investigation said the class in question was Government 1310: Introduction to Congress, taught by Matthew Platt, the Harvard Crimson student newspaper reported today. There are 279 students in the class, according to Harvard’s website. Platt declined to comment when reached by telephone.

The incident came to light when a teaching fellow noticed similarities among a number of exams in mid-May and brought it to the attention of the professor in charge of the course, Harris said. That led the Administrative Board to begin a review of every exam, he said.

While he wouldn’t discuss specifics, Harris said school officials believe that electronic communication was part of the apparent rule violations. Students who have been raised in the Internet age may view all kinds of media differently than past generations, he said.

“Technology has shifted the way people think about intellectual property, the way people think about communicating with each other,” Harris said.

Administrative Board

All the students suspected of being involved in the cheating have been informed that they will be asked to come before the Administrative Board, Harris said. Penalties may include a warning or probation, and some students may be exonerated, he said. No specific cases have been heard yet, he said.

The College Committee on Academic Integrity, which Harris leads, is preparing recommendations for reminding students of the importance of “academic honesty,” the school said. Harvard has orientation programs that focus on research and writing practices, such as integrity and appropriate citation, he said.

“We always stress academic integrity with our students,” he said. “It’s very hard to explain to someone that this raises ethical concerns and that it’s not OK.”

The committee will look at practices of other institutions that have faced cheating scandals, Harvard said. Security at sites administering the SAT and ACT tests in Nassau County, New York, was stepped up this year after students were found to have hired stand-ins to take the college entrance exams for them.

In 2010, Harvard senior Adam Wheeler was found to have faked his way into a spot at the college using forged recommendations, and then applied for scholarships with plagiarized essays.