The Harvard Gazette has an article up about a cheating scandal at Harvard; apparently, in a large class last spring, a large number of students worked together on the final exam. The first two paragraphs read:
The Harvard College Administrative Board is investigating allegations that a significant number of students enrolled in an undergraduate course last semester may have inappropriately collaborated on answers, or plagiarized their classmates’ responses, on the final exam for the course.
An initial investigation by the board, the faculty committee charged with interpreting and applying the rules of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to the undergraduate student body, touched off a comprehensive review of the more than 250 take-home final exams submitted at the end of the course. That review has resulted in cases before the Administrative Board involving nearly half the students in the class.This is reminiscent of other past scandals (MIT, Duke) and general trends found in examining academic dishonesty (Stanford, MIT).
There's not much information out there right now on this story -- Harvard has not even released what class is involved. There aren't that many classes with an enrollment > 250, so it might not be too hard to piece together; I imagine some newspapers will find out soon enough. (Update: The Crimson tweets that the class is Introduction to Congress.)
There are a number of ways to look at this story, and I imagine I might write a few posts on it. One issue is the fallout for the students. Harvard has a very tough policy on academic dishonesty compared to other schools, from what I've heard. A standard punishment is that students are required to withdraw for one year for cases of plagiarism. "Improper collaboration" is perhaps a bit fuzzier an issue, and I am not sure how the Ad Board will choose to handle it. But it will certainly be a stressful and trying time for all involved as it gets sorted out, and for those with more severe punishments, well afterwards. I note that it's not just the students who have to deal with the stress of it all; it also takes the toll on the administrators who have to administer these decisions.
Are Harvard's remedies for academic dishonesty too strict? These are the rules of the Faculty, and we could change them. Is withdrawal for 1 year for standard cases suitable? I've heard many arguments (generally from students) that that is too harsh a sentence; on the other hand, it's meant to strongly deter what should be (but doesn't seem to be) a rare transgression. It's an interesting issue to consider, and I'd enjoy hearing reasoned views in the comments.
Interestingly, there's been a lot on higher-up academic dishonesty of various sorts of late, most notably Fareed Zakaria (Yale Daily News, one of many Shots in the Dark Posts) and Niall Ferguson (Brad DeLong's blog,one of many Shots in the Dark posts). So these topics seem ripe for larger-scale discussion.