Harvard Cheating Scandal Reveals Gaps in Costly Education
With news that nearly half of the 279 Harvard undergraduates enrolled in an “Introduction to Congress” class have been accused of cheating on the final exam, the university has been immersed in some understandable soul-searching. Blame has been cast far and wide — on everything from today’s entitled youthto the temptations of the take-home final to Harvard’s tendency toward grade inflation.
In the end, culpability will lie with the 125 students in question, who allegedly turned in strikingly similar answers on a take-home test last spring. So far, some have complained that the test instructions — which described the exam as “open-book, open-note, open-Internet etc.” — were misleadingly vague. But the instructions also stated that “students may not discuss the exam with others.” The trouble is that students approached the test with the understanding, it seems, that no one, from their classmates to their professor, took the course as seriously as they should have from the start.
That’s an important component of this cheating scandal, and it speaks to a larger problem with undergraduate education at Harvard and beyond. Government 1310 was a survey course with a reputation for requiring little effort. In an online course evaluation site, one former student wrote that the class required “four hours of work every three weeks. Pretty chill.” Some of last year’s students maintain that Assistant Professor Matthew Platt didn’t seem to mind if people skipped his lectures. And, as with many Harvard courses, graduate teaching assistants took on a heavy share of the instruction.