Harvard Investigates 125 Students for Cheating

Strikingly similar take-home exams prompted what may be the largest cheating investigation in university’s history.
Harvard University is currently investigating 125 students for cheating (Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Sep 1, 2012· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Last spring, 279 Harvard students completed the university's "Introduction to Congress" course. But today, over half of those students are being investigated for cheating on the final exam, The Harvard Crimson reports.

According to the paper, Professor Matthew B. Platt, who led the class, initially noticed suspicious similarities in approximately 20 of the take-home exams he collected from his students. Upon alerting the Administrative Board in May, a preliminary investigation was launched examining all the final tests from that class. 125 of them were found to be suspicious because they included answers similar enough to look as if students had at least collaborated with, if not plagiarized off each other.

The Crimson reports that the test was an open-book take-home exam. Professor Platt reportedly gave explicit written instructions stating that students could use any resource materials at their disposal, such as textbooks and the internet, but were not allowed to receive help from other people, including other students: “…students may not discuss the exam with others―this includes resident tutors, writing centers, etc.”

Inside the university’s Q Guide system― a web platform where students write honest evaluations of teachers and courses―a number of reviews for the Intro to Congress class were reportedly harsh, citing Professor Platt’s disorganization and failure to make himself available outside of class. One anonymous reviewer who was frustrated Platt canceled his office hours the morning of the exam, added this:

“Almost all of [the students at office hours] had been awake the entire night, and none of us could figure out what an entire question (worth 20% of the grade) was asking. On top of this, one of the questions asked us about a term that had never been defined in any of our readings and had not been properly defined in class, so the TF [teaching fellow] had to give us a definition to use for the question.”

If found guilty, students could face a year-long suspension from school, in addition to other sanctions, according to the Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris. He told The Crimson, “It’s something that I think was obviously not going to stay secret, clearly, and nor do we want it to. I think it’s important for us to be able to take an event like this and teach it, treat it as a teaching opportunity.”

The Associated Press reports the investigation remains ongoing and no end date for it has yet been set.

Do you think their teacher's unavailability should be a factor in deciding what consequences these students face? Or is there no excuse for not following the rules?