Cheating scandal rocks Harvard

Scores of students are suspected of cheating on a final exam. In email Dean calls it "deeply disturbing"

Published August 30, 2012 9:39PM (EDT)

The Harvard Crimson reports that Harvard is investigating more than 100 students for cheating on a final exam in May. Jay M. Harris, the dean of undergraduate education, called the situation “unprecedented in anyone’s living memory.”

The class that has come under suspicion? Government 1310: Introduction to Congress.

Anything to add? Email

Here's the email from Michael D. Smith, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, to the Harvard faculty:

From: "Dean Michael D. Smith" <>
Reply-To: "Dean Michael D. Smith" <>
Subject: Message from Dean Smith
To: ""

Dear colleagues,

As we reconvene on campus this week at the start of a new semester, what it means to be a part of this community – both the privileges and the obligations – is very much on my mind. Scholarship, free inquiry, and academic excellence open unparalleled opportunities for our students, and also presume a commitment to learning, and to the rigors of challenging coursework. They form the foundation on which we do our daily work.

In that context, I am writing to you about a series of allegations concerning academic integrity and student conduct, the implications of which we must discuss as a Faculty.

This Harvard Gazette story describes what is currently known and the steps we are taking moving forward, but let me summarize here. At the end of last semester, an instructor found indications that a number of undergraduates in this instructor’s spring class may have committed acts of academic dishonesty on the class’s take-home final exam, ranging from inappropriate collaboration to outright plagiarism.

Per the Faculty’s procedures, the Administrative Board undertook a review of all final exams from the class. I am sorry to report that this careful and comprehensive review found that nearly half of the more than 250 students in the class may have worked together in groups of varying size to develop and/or share answers, even though there was a stated policy against collaboration on the final exam. In the coming weeks, the Administrative Board will meet with each student whose work is in question, seek to understand all the relevant facts, and determine whether any Faculty rules were violated. To date, the Board has come to no judgments. Our commitment to student privacy and due process, as well as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), prohibit us from disclosing the names of students involved.

The fact that the Administrative Board is investigating such a large number of cases from a single class is deeply disturbing. At the same time, we must not forget that the vast majority of our students complete all their assignments honestly, diligently, and in accordance with our regulations and practices. Allegations of inappropriate collaboration and plagiarism in a single class should not be allowed to diminish the good work or reputation of our outstanding student body.

There are important tasks that I would ask that you undertake, right now, as webegin this new semester. Please take a look at your syllabus. As you know, faculty legislation dictates that course policy on collaboration be clearly stated in your syllabi – draft language and assistance is available from the Office of Undergraduate Education. Discuss this policy in your classes. Meet with your Directors of Undergraduate Studies and with each other to share best practices on how we can each foster a culture of honesty and integrity in our classes and learning assessments. Your efforts are essential to our success.

As the semester gets under way, I appreciate that I can count on you to help our students to grow intellectually and to embody our values and ideals.

Sincerely yours,

Michael D. Smith







By Alex Halperin

Alex Halperin is news editor at Salon. You can follow him on Twitter @alexhalperin.

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