Cheating at Harvard: Probe Focuses on Plagiarism in Era of Blurry Ethics (+Video)

Article excerpt

Harvard University is reexamining its academic honesty policies and reiterating them to students amid an investigation into some 125 students who may have plagiarized or collaborated inappropriately on a take-home final exam last spring.

The case could resonate far beyond the Ivy League colleges Cambridge, Mass., campus as universities nationwide struggle with a major gap between students and faculty members sense of what constitutes acceptable behavior, higher education experts say.

Collaborating and taking material from the Internet are becoming part of the student psyche, so they dont report it as cheating, says Donald McCabe, a professor of management at Rutgers University.

In surveys from 2006 to 2012, 60 percent of nonfreshmen college students said they had cheated, Mr. McCabe says. Thats down from 68 percent in 2002-06 but rather than a decline in actual cheating, his research suggests fewer students now realize that what theyre doing counts as cheating.

Thats echoed in other recent surveys. About 6 in 10 four-year colleges report an increase in cheating and plagiarizing since 2001, and 46 percent say students understanding of plagiarism has declined, says Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and co-author of a recent book on college students.

Mr. Levine recounts the view of one dean of students: that soon, course syllabi will be as big as the Manhattan phonebook, because faculty have to spell out everything: what constitutes plagiarism, whether they are allowed to use digital devices in class, even that they are not allowed to come to class intoxicated.

Harvard announced Thursday that its Administrative Board reviewed more than 250 take-home final exams after a faculty member reported similarities between some answers. That resulted in about half of those students being brought before the board. If found guilty of academic dishonesty, one possible result could be a one-year suspension from Harvard.

These allegations, if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends, said Harvard President Drew Faust.

I respect Harvard for taking this out in the open, says McCabe, who notes that many campuses try to avoid publicity when cheating allegations surface.

Students on Harvards campus Friday say cheating is not widespread and that students do understand the importance of the academic code. Its implicit in the student body, says sophomore Taylor Phillips. That is the advantage of coming to a school like this.

Collaboration rules are set on a class-by-class basis, students say. …