Subscribe via RSS Feed

“You Sir Have the Boorish Manners of a Yalie”

[ 146 ] August 31, 2012 |

These days I usually leave the indignant to Loomis, but seriously?

Harvard University will consider instituting an honor code as it investigates whether at least 125 undergraduates cheated by working together on a take-home exam in the spring. Officials said they intend to start broad conversations about academic honesty, including why it is vital to intellectual inquiry, in the wake of what is believed to be the largest such episode in recent school history.

“We really think we need to work harder,” said Jay M. Harris, dean of undergraduate education. “We do think it’s an opportunity to really put out before the community how much we value integrity.”

School officials said Thursday they discovered roughly half of the students in a class of at least 250 people may have shared answers or plagiarized on a final. They declined to release the name of the class or the students’ names.

125 students from the most privileged backgrounds in America couldn’t be bothered to do the work in (what I understand to have been) an introductory government course. It’s not as if Harvard undergrads need to cheat their way to a 4.0 in order to have any job prospects; simply by graduating they have much better prospects than the unwashed masses of undergraduates laboring in public schools around the country, not to mention those who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to attend college.

And it’s not precisely that I’m surprised at this garbage, either; the elite crust that has produced the undergraduate cohort that currently attends Ivy League institutions obviously hasn’t made overmuch effort to establish or reinforce standards of honor, integrity, and fair play. Nevertheless, I can’t help but to be extraordinarily irritated by this particular instance of academic dishonesty, and to hope that Harvard takes harsh disciplinary measures. Gotta nip this kinda thing in the bud; don’t want these kids to grow up to be Doris Kearns Goodwin or Fareed Zakaria, after all.

  • Gus

    don’t want these kids to grow up to be Doris Kearns Goodwin or Fareed Zakaria, after all.

    Do the kids still say “oh, snap?”

    • Isn’t Dershowitz at Harvard at well? As I recall Norman Finkelstein definitely nailed him for plagiarism.

  • Anderson

    Harvard doesn’t already *have* an honor code?

    • Holden Pattern

      Don’t need one. Harvard, you know.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Whether or not to have an honor code is not a cut-and-dried issue. Basically, an honor code is either a) window dressing or b) a system in which students are largely responsible for policing and punishing teaching.

      My undergrad institution (Harvard, in fact) didn’t have an honor code. School officials were responsible for dealing with punishing cheaters. This worked reasonably well (and may well work well in the case under discussion here…let’s see how they deal with it).

      My graduate institution (Princeton) had an (undergrad) honor code. If I caught an undergrad that I was teaching violating the rules of academic honesty, his or her peers would be responsible for rendering judgment. This also worked reasonably well, as Princeton sold the honor code as a central part of the undergraduate experience and students took it very seriously. Students caught cheating often received serious penalties from their peers. And the system probably had some sort of deterrent effect. Nevertheless, I saw more cheating among undergrads at Princeton than at Harvard.

      At the big public flagship university at which I teach, we have a toothless, symbolic honor code, which we adopted a few years ago. It does nothing whatsoever. Faculty are still largely responsible for adjudicating cases of cheating.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        Whoops: that’s “policing and punishing CHEATING”

        • somethingblue

          Yeah, let’s get our categories straight. Policing and punishing teaching is the administration’s job.

          • firefall

            not that it happens much

      • gmack

        When I interviewed at a tiny liberal arts college a few years ago (around 400 students), they trumpeted their honor code as a major point of pride. It was taken so seriously that, for instance, it was not really acceptable for professors to proctor exams. Obviously, I can’t really evaluate its effectiveness (I didn’t take the job–it was lovely, but really isolated), but the professors I talked to loved it and insisted that they quite literally never had plagiarism or other misconduct issues.

        • I taught at a school for awhile where technically profs weren’t necessarily supposed to proctor exams either b/c of the honor code. I stuck around anyway, you know, in case anyone had questions.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          I have no doubt that honor codes can work well. As I said, the PU Honor Code worked reasonably well…though certainly no better than Harvard’s non-honor code system.

          Honor codes are very reliant on a culture of compliance of the sort that gmack describes that I think is much easier to achieve at small liberal arts colleges than major research universe. In a variety of ways, PU functions rather like a small liberal arts college (at least for undergrads); Harvard functions much more like a small version of a big research university. I think it would be hard to institute a (real) honor code at Harvard.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            ack…”major research universities*”

            • bph

              Major research universe describes well how the U of Chicago thinks of itself….

          • gmack

            That’s my impression too, though heaven knows we’re having a hell of a time instituting an effective system (whether based on an honor code or on professorial oversight) at my current institution. It’s also small, but so far we seem not to be able to inculcate the culture everyone here is referring to (though that’s partly because, ahem, there are elements of the faculty who don’t seem to care at all about the academic dimensions of the institution and who actively undermine them; so what we tend to get is a totally symbolic and useless honor code combined with a totally ineffective and weak enforcement mechanism, but that’s a story for a different day).

          • UNC-CH’s was really good until the administration starting fiddling with results that were “too harsh”. Then, it became horrible.

      • cpinva

        at the reasonably sized public university i graduated from in the late 70’s, there was a one sentence honor code in place. alleged offenses were adjudicated by a student honor council, who also meted out punishment. it was taken dead seriously, by everyone. the one instance i am personally aware of, a case of alleged plagiarism, was punished by expulsion, for a first offense.

        i knew the person in question. i was shocked that she’d been accused of such a thing, as it just wasn’t done, in my experience. when i learned she been found guilty and expelled, i felt a little bad for her, but i thought it was a just penalty. worse still, she then had to explain to her parents, and everyone else she knew, why she’d been expelled. getting into another school was going to be, at best, difficult.

        perhaps mine was the rare experience, i don’t know.

      • John

        If an honor code means that broader consequences of cheating are adjudicated by students, that’s fine. If it means that I have to pass students I catch cheating unless a jury of their peers finds them guilty of cheating, that’s less fine.

        • gmack

          Our academic integrity committees are equally divided between students and faculty, and the first finding our committees have to decide is whether the cheating did in fact take place. My experience is that students are far harsher on each other than faculty members are. Faculty members tend to buy claims of ignorance (or sob stories in general) more than students do.

        • UNC-CH’s was mixed as well and I found the students were really serious about getting it right.

          One important reason to keep adjudication of academic mal-conduct away from front line teachers is to prevent inconsistent or abusive practices by instructors. Many people get really pissed off at cheaters (I do!) and so it’s good to keep punishment away from the directly offended. Inconsistency is a more general problem, and, alas, doesn’t always go away when there’s a central regulator.

          Also, depending on how severe you want punishments to be, you may have to remove it from the instructor…e.g., explusion can’t reasonably be in the hands of each instructor.

      • JL

        Yeah, at my undergrad institution (MIT), we didn’t have an honor code, and cases of student cheating were dealt with (usually with suspensions) by a committee consisting of faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students. Seemed like it worked fine.

  • diogenes

    Whaddaya expect? I’m sure they picked it up from their parents.

    Do the work? That’s for the little people.

  • Simple mInd

    Anarchy, thy name is Upper Crust.

    • LFC

      The notion that all Harvard students are from the upper crust is a myth. The majority of students are on fairly substantial financial aid and if your parents’ income is under a certain level, no parental contribution at all is required. The OP implies w/o evidence that all Harvard students come from “the most privileged backgrounds.” Robert Farley might be surprised to find out that, taking the student body as a whole, the distribution of ‘backgrounds’ is not too dissimilar from the institution at which he teaches. Haven’t read the whole thread so I apologize if this pt has already been made.

      • LFC

        ok, scrolling down I see the point has been made before.

      • Adam

        40% of Harvard undergrads are from families earning over $185K per year. 20% are from families between $150K-185K 20% are from families with income between $100-$150K.
        That puts 80% of undergrads in the highest income quintile with 40% from the top 5% of family income. The crustiness of Harvard undergrads does not appear to be a myth.

        Harvard deserves credit for HFAI and increased outreach to poor/middle income students. However, even though it doubled its percentage of Pell Grant students in the undergraduate population in the past decade it is still only 15%.

        • LFC

          Adam: Thanks for these figures. Obviously the student body is far from a representative cross-section of the income distribution. Still, I’m not sure that justifies the OP’s particular phrasing (“125 students from the most privileged backgrounds in America” — without knowing the specific backgrounds of the 125 students in question), but readers can decide that for themselves.

          (Note, btw, that what I wrote was “the notion that *all* Harvard students are upper crust is a myth.” I did *not* write: “The notion that Harvard students come disproportionately from the upper part of the income distribution is a myth.”)

  • They should be fried. Of course, that wouldn’t be fair. They need a million chances. Consequences are for others.

    • How about Shake and Bake?

    • bph

      That should be Pinko Panko for frying…..

  • This is kind of why I don’t give “take-home exams.”

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yeah, I find it hard to believe that students can be made not to talk tot each other about take home exams. If questions are that specific, grade the fucking blue books.

      • DrDick

        Actually works pretty well in my classes and there has not been any substantial evidence of collusion in the past ten years (and the classes I do this in are small enough to effectively monitor for that). Part of it is how you frame the questions.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Part of it is how you frame the questions.

          Right. I do some take-home exams too, just not for questions as narrow as the ones being asked on this exam. I wouldn’t consider it cheating for students to discuss a question on one of my take-home exams.

          • Agreed. I do require sorts of “take-home” papers for my lit classes, but they are all designed to come out of the classwork. And actually I encourage collaboration, based on the the work I know they’ve done in class. Students really can learn from each other!

            But this is old-hat stuff. Kind of impressed at how lame Yale is at, uh, pedagogy.

            • DrDick

              All I am interested in is whether they know and understand the material covered and whether they can articulate and express that understanding effectively.

    • It really depends: my take-home exams are basically end-of-semester essay assignments; cheating really isn’t any more of an issue on those than on other essay assignments. And not having to read adrenaline-fueled brain-dumps, not to mention the panicked excuses, begging for make-ups, desperate review sessions…. so worth it. Plus they learn more by writing than they do taking tests.

      • DrDick

        That is basically how I structure my take home essay exams. I find, and they say themselves, that it helps them learn and retain the material better.

      • Bill Murray

        I have take home tests in my grad classes and tell them to talk about the question, what they think it means and possible solutions. Then they write up their solution. Just like if they had a real job

  • gentleman’s B+

    Why anyone has to cheat at a university that doles out A or A- to half the class is beyond me.

    • Anonymous

      A decade ago, it was revealed that Hahvahd was iirc awarding an honors distinction and an A average to something like 93% of their undergraduate degree recipients. They were embarrassed by the story and pledged reform; I don’t know what if anything happened.

      • sparks

        Probably whacked it down to 91% and patted themselves on the back for a job well done.

      • Warren Terra

        Oops, that comment was me, forgot OS version upgrade on my phone wiped out most or all of my cookies.

      • Ian

        Why were they embarrassed? At Harvard, like at many other universities, honors is a program: besides maintaining a minimum GPA (not set at an especially onerous level) you have to take more courses (I think) and write a senior thesis. It’s not surprising that most Harvard students would elect to do honors; they’re selected from all the most irritating keeners in the country.

    • Murc

      I may be misinformed here, but wouldn’t you EXPECT that at a place like Harvard?

      I mean, even for well-heeled legacies, don’t you have to be kind of a driven overachiever just to get in there? I went to High School with guys who had GPAs that were over 4.0 and near-perfect SATs who got rejected from Ivys. Shouldn’t you EXPECT most of the guys there to be getting As?

      Unless you’re arguing that we return to the days when we graded entirely subjectively and a certain percentage of the class was going to always fail no matter what.

      • They should also be correspondingly better at cheating.

      • Warren Terra

        This depends on what you think “Honors” means. If you think it means that they earned unusual distinction at their institution then yes, this would be very inappropriate. If on the other hand you think it means they earned unusual distinction in society writ large, then perhaps you should award almost all of them honors. Heck, give them the honors before they ever arrive on campus. But I don’t think the latter approach holds up.

        More generally, most American colleges grade to something resembling the curve, though of course the midpoint of that curve is adjusted up and down according to a sense of the merit of the students and in response to political and other pressures. A class in which everyone is getting an “A” is not in keeping with this notion, even if a student at the 50th percentile is really quite good.

        And while I’ve never taught at Harvard, my experience of other highly rigorous, highly selective institutions would lead me to suspect that many, perhaps even most of the students are not doing exceptionally well in every class, whatever record of accomplishment they may have demonstrated in order to gain admission. Being a young adult living with strangers far from home and freed from family and from the familiar is not easy, and not every class is equally suited to every student’s interests and priorities, however capable those students might be.

        • UserGoogol

          It’s entirely likely that some people who get A’s aren’t really A students, but I really profoundly don’t see the point of grading on a curve. (Except when the curve is used to recalibrate for the tests being incorrectly scaled in the first place.) The point of school isn’t to be the best, it’s to learn as much as you can. Why the hell should I care how I did relative to other students in the class? Why should anyone else? All that matters is how much you learned. If people really want to know how well they did relative to the rest of the class, the professor can release the grade distribution.

          • I hate curves and refuse to do it.

            Although it isn’t so common in history.

            Sadly, I am weak enough to give an A- to those who get 89.5%. Grade inflation affects even me.

            • Linnaeus

              I’ve always graded on a straight scale.

              • firefall

                break the habit – next time grade on the duodecahedron instead, save time and effort, and improve fairness.

            • Bill Murray

              It’s good that your test writing ability has such discrimination, usually you can only get that with multiple choice

            • You feel that rounding is weak?

              If you did it for an 89.4999999%, then you’re weak, weak, weak like water.

      • Compare with high-end public institutions. A-grades at a place like UCLA or Berkeley are not at all common; the students there are also driven overachievers.

        • Anonymous

          I’m guessing that’s not true. A quick glance at my graduating class shows a disproportionate number of three-asterisked folk.

          • FD Murphy

            And if you graduated from Harvard
            half your class would have asterisks.

            UCLA limits Latin honors to the
            the top 20% of students. Harvard limits Latin honors to the top 50%
            (due to policies put in place after 90% of Harvard undergraduates received Latin honors from 2001 to 2004).

            2012 GPA thresholds for Latin honors
            Harvard UCLA
            summa not released(5%) 3.890 (5%)
            magna not released(15%) 3.813 (5%)
            cum laude 3.756 (30%) 3.684 (10%)

            It appears almost half of Harvard undergrads graduate with an A- or better GPA while at UCLA that number is slightly under 20%.

      • JL

        It sure wasn’t what we had at MIT. There you had intro physics classes with 12% of some of the most driven kids in the country failing outright. There are some downsides to this system, but my point is that you don’t have to give truckfuls of As just because you have talented students.

  • Mr. Ziffel

    Is it just me, or does it seem rather naive to give out a take-home exam and not expect some of the students to share answers?

    • Philip

      I don’t know. At my school (Harvey Mudd) the majority of tests are take home. Our honor code really is taken seriously, plus it’s a small enough school (<800, all undergrad) that there is a lot of pressure exerted by other students to live up to it. To my knowledge, cheating here is actually very rare. It's the fault of the culture of schools, not the professors who want to have faith in their students' integrity.

      • sparks

        It’s unfortunate, but cheating was rampant where I went to college. I didn’t cheat since I didn’t have to, but at least half the friends I had did cheat at one time or another, and I don’t even include those who were in fraternities.

      • Sharon

        It was the same at my school. We had a strictly enforced honor code, take home test, and very little cheating.

    • Lurker

      When I was a undergrad in Finland, we got a new Chemistry professor who had been in the US for quite a long time. We were her first undergrad course. And she gave us a multiple-choice take-home midterms. We were shocked in several ways:
      a) We felt that answering a multiple-choice exam was demeaning. The questions should be essay-type (or mathematical problems) to make sure you really understand the issues.
      b) She prohibited cooperation between students and required us to sign a statement: “I have not shared this work with another student.”

      While a) was a matter of irritation, we had real problems with b). The unwritten honour code of our student “guild” (the association cum co-ed fraternity-sorority of the major students) required active cooperation in homework. The professors knew this and did not give take-home exams. Instead, they understood that this cooperation actually increased the learning of the weaker students.

      The a couple of students went to the professor and explained that the homework format was incompatible with our honour code. Certain religious-minded students actually saw it as their religious duty to help fellow students in homework as much as possible. She apologised and reissued to mid-term exams as usual homework.

      In exams, however, cheating was extremely rare and as a grad student I, proctoring tens of exams, had to expel a cheater from the exam only once: a foreign exchange student. However, the students took the exams to the guild archives, which was publicly known by all professors. This simply meant that professors needed to make new exams next year.

      • BW

        It’s a pretty big cultural difference, probably rooted in how Scandinavian societies in particular approach the job market. Beyond a certain rarefied level, most US undergraduates are not taking the classes primarily to learn stuff. They’re taking it because they’re told they have to in order to get the degree that will allow them to get a job (a job which often will only use the degree as a signaling device and won’t draw much on the material learned in college).

        Because of this, for lots of US students “collaboration” is of the “glom answers off the one guy who actually thought about the material” variety. Everyone else is just trying to jump through the hoops the professor gives them as fast and painlessly as possible so that they get a grade and then never have to think about the stuff again. That’s likely why the American visitor prohibited collaboration – she was used to weaker students simply taking advantage of more lenient collaboration policies to scribble down answers they never actually understood.

  • Donalbain

    What on earth is the point of a take home exam?

    • NonyNony

      To give the students time to think over and research the questions a bit, and to remove the time constraint that flusters a lot of otherwise good students so that they can actually do their best work. After all, the concern is that at the end of the course they can show that they understand the material at a particular level – it isn’t really a concern that they be able to understand the material with a clock ticking down in the background.

      Having said that – take home exams cannot ever show that the students actually understand the material. Because you as the instructor have no way of knowing if the students are showing their understanding of the material or are cheating. So while I sympathize with a desire to have a “better” exam that tests students more deeply on their capabilities, take home exams have always been a joke where honest students tie two hands behind their back while dishonest students cheat and perform better than they should.

      • Anonymous

        The answer is open book exams with no time limit…

        • John

          How can you do that without it being take home? I don’t have the room for an unlimited amount of time, nor do I have time to stay there forever.

      • Bill Murray

        Because you as the instructor have no way of knowing if the students are showing their understanding of the material or are cheating.

        only if you don’t spend time finding this out

    • L2P

      Also, some classes are more research based. For instance, I took a Portuguese literature class with a final that required analysis w/ cites to the works. It had to be open book, and the questions required a lot of analysis (and thumbing through materials) so the test ended up being a 2-day open-buck take-home test.

      But yeah, most tests? I don’t know.

      • herr doktor bimler

        a 2-day open-buck test
        Is that “unlimited budget”?

        • No, it’s veterinary gross anatomy.

          • sparks

            Or a Damien Hirst exhibition.

            • herr doktor bimler

              Worst pinata evah!

    • Philip

      Taking a test when and where you want can make it much less stressful (and thus easier to perform up to your actual level of undestanding, unimpeded by stress and anxiety). Sometimes, too, tests are given that allow the use of some resources that would be difficult to incorporate into a traditional proctored setting. Also, tests are sometimes given to be completed over a day or multiple days, allowing the students to think more deeply about their responses and answer much more complicated problems.

    • efgoldman

      When I was an undergrad (45+ years ago) some survey classes also had “open book” exams. You took the test in a proctored classroom, but were allowed access to whatever books or notes you brought with you. That seems easy, but actually was a trap: if you didn’t know the material going in, you spent way, way too much time leafing through your books and notes. High grades usually did not follow.

      • This is one reason I tend not to give them, and to avoid choice on my exams.

        I did allow a cheat sheet, i.e., two sides of a 3×5 or a 4×6 (?) index card. Just enough to provide some psychological support, but not enough to sink you. Since the questions were philosophy ones, there was no way you could really put a proper answer on them, but only reminders of things you might draw a blank on.

    • John

      What others have said, but I’ll just note that I’ve never noticed any particular difference in quality depending on whether I give an in-class or take-home exam. The smart students do pretty well, regardless; the less good students do pretty badly, regardless. And, in general, straight up cheating can be detected because cheating students don’t really answer the question.

      • Matt_L

        Yes, this is my experience also. The students who try to cheat on take home exams tend to not answer the question they were asked. You have to know the material pretty well to cheat undetected. So its generally easier to just answer the damn question.

  • firefall

    hasn’t made overmuch effort to establish or reinforce standards of honor

    or rather, has made considerable effort to destroy concepts of honour and honesty for their children

  • NonyNony

    I love this quote:

    Tiffany Fonseca, a sophomore from Boston, said she didn’t know the details of what happened, but that it was easy to see how students could talk to each other about a take-home test.

    “I’m kind of shocked, but I’m not,” she said.

    See, yeah. I’m kind of shocked in the sense that I’m shocked that people who are attending Harvard are so bone dead stupid that they didn’t bother to make sure that their answers were sufficiently different from each other when they submitted their exams so as not to raise the red flags.

    On the other hand, I’m not at all surprised by the cheating.

    I’ve had too many students over the years who think that the academic process is supposed to be adversarial instead of cooperative. Students who think that my job is to make their lives difficult and to get them to fail and that their job is to trick me into passing them by any means possible without actually learning the material. It’s a minority mind you, but enough to be mildly irritating every year.

    So I’ve had students who have gone this route. But over a hundred of them? And none of them were smart enough to figure out how to make their answers different enough to not look like they were cheating? That’s pretty incredible – I wonder if the TAs at Harvard tried googling some of those “long strings of identical words” to see if perhaps the answers to the take home exam are sitting out there in a nice PDF file indexed by Google and ready for students to find.

    • efgoldman

      Students who think that my job is to make their lives difficult and to get them to fail…

      FWIW, I actually had one prof, maybe two, who acted as if they believed this. My roommate, who was pre-med, had to take Chemistry 101 freshman year; that was the “weeding out” course. I don’t know whether the prof liked doing it (I never met him), but he made the course so hard that roughly half the class failed, and blew their chance for med school, at least at our university.

  • Jon

    As a reluctant graduate student at this esteemed and venerable institution,

    I’ve always been surprised at the contrast in culture, vis a vis academic honesty, between H and my undergrad uni. The latter emphasized a very student-based honor code, explicitly and repeatedly. Professors and proctors were banned from exam rooms. Students were expected to uphold the code. As part of that, we were expected to report suspected cheating.

    Here, there’s a hilarious song and dance at each exam, where they spend 15 or 20 minutes reading the rules in painstaking detail. Among these rules are detailed contingencies for mid-exam sickness: students are to be escorted immediately to a Harvard medical facility, quarantined from contact with fellow students, immediately finish the exam upon discharge, etc. During the exam, grad students (and pre-financial crisis, a corps of local retiree proctors) patrol the room.

    I can’t speak to outcomes, and there’s probably a ton of other cultural differences between the student bodies that play into it, but it’s always felt slimier here.

    Color me unsurprised.

  • Jim Lynch

    Really smart people are the most humble on earth. And that’s not a quality that springs to mind when a person thinks of a Harvard alumni.

  • Big class for a fancy school like Harvard. Small classes and lots of essays are an effective way to prevent cheating, at least on the liberal arts side.

  • Medrawt

    Also, the rep on Harvard when I was in school (at U of Chicago, so there’s a cultural axe to grind there) was that getting honors at Harvard was much easier than actually getting into it. So not clear why this was necessary to begin with. Of course, my own graduation seemed to have about 40% of the class receiving “honors”, so we probably shouldn’t have talked.

    (More seriously, if this was an intro course and there were lots of freshman in it, my experience at UofC was that a very large number of kids I knew who’d been the valedictorians, etc. of their high school classes were poleaxed by the reading workload and performance standards they were suddenly being subjected to, and I can imagine mass cheating happening as a reaction.)

  • Hanspeter

    the elite crust that has produced the undergraduate cohort that currently attends Ivy League institutions

    Please don’t lump all Ivy League alumni with either 1) these (presumed) cheaters, or 2) the elite crust (or even the slightly rich crust).

    Thank you (the rest of us not in #1 or #2 above).

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      This x 1000.

      Of course, nobody has ever cheated at the kind of hardscrabble public universities that the writers of LGM attended.

      Honestly, the cheap, evidence-free stereotyping throughout this thread is pretty disgraceful.

      [Full disclosure: I’m (relatively proudly, all things considered) Harvard, AB Social Studies summa cum laude]

      • Funkhauser

        This. Cheating never happens elsewhere? Let me introduce you to the three students I’ve had to report (big pain in the a–) at two campuses of the SUNY.

        Stated without evidence: “125 students from the most privileged backgrounds”

        False: “introductory government course”
        correction: upper-division course on Congress

        Broad sociological generalization submitted without evidence: “the elite crust that has produced the undergraduate cohort that currently attends Ivy League institutions obviously hasn’t made overmuch effort to establish or reinforce standards of honor, integrity, and fair play”

        There’s a policy on academic honesty stated in both the Student Handbook and the Expos booklet. Amazingly, there are consequences for plaigarism. The Ad Board exists, whether students pledge to a Code or not.

        Building off what Thers said above, what kind of professor assigns only four take-home exams over the semester? Someone lazy and inadequately prepared in course design. But that’s another matter for another time.

        [Disclaimer: Harvard alum, opponent of sloppy arguments.]

        • newsouthzach

          False: “introductory government course”
          correction: upper-division course on Congress

          Harvard has upper-division courses with 250 students? At my school, which is similar to H in many respects, the only classes I had that were that size were freshman survey courses — intro to philosophy, intro psych, etc. By the time we got into upper division courses, there were never more than 20 or so of us, and in fact I was the only person (!) in my solid state physics course. Now that was a fun exam… me, the prof, and a chalkboard.

          • BW

            Harvard generally allows all undergrads, regardless of major, to take “upper-division” courses without prerequisite. (This generally requires no instructor approval whatsoever in the humanities and social sciences, not sure about the hard sciences). The traditional way it’s organized is that courses numbered 1-999 (usually just 1-99) are “for undergraduates”, 1000-1999 are “for undergraduates and graduate students”, and 2000+ are generally exclusively for grad students.

            I took a 1000-level history course my freshman year, before ever taking Western Civ (history 10a and 10b). It wasn’t a problem at all. I also tried a 2000 level political science game theory class my junior year and dropped it 10 minutes before the drop deadline once I realized that a) I had no idea what the hell I was doing; b) the only undergrads in it were all taking Math 55, likely the single hardest intro math course in America (if not the galaxy). But other 2000-level courses may well have been fairly manageable.

            That said, 1000-level classes usually are not really “harder” than <1000 level classes – they're just more specific in the material covered. Most students who took Social Studies 10 will affirm that it's in fact way harder than most 1000-level courses in history/government/anthro etc.

            • BW

              forgot to mention – the corollary to this is that it allows non-survey courses to get quite large in their enrollement. So popular professors in Religion 1529 or Gov 1295 (Steve Levitsky, woot!) attract tons of people. Gov 1140 was supposed to be an 18-person seminar in 2003 but this young suave British dude taught it and 200 people showed up the first week. His name was Miliband or something.

      • Linnaeus

        Of course, nobody has ever cheated at the kind of hardscrabble public universities that the writers of LGM attended.

        A claim the original post did not make.

        • Eli

          IB must have graduated during one of the years Harvard was granting summa cum laude honors to a quarter of the class.

          (Full Disclaimer: Yale alum, opponent of sloppy Crimson)

          • LFC

            Eli: Harvard has never given summa cum laude to more than a tiny percentage of the class. It’s never been anywhere near a quarter, more like 5% (cf. comment by FDMurphy upthread), even, I’m quite sure, during the most ‘honor-inflated’ years.

      • Oh, you poor Ivy Leaguers. I am so sad for you. The oppression you must face here. Why, it’s like you truly understand all sorts of injustice in a new way.


        • What an interesting display.

          Class consciousness?

          Or not enough beer?

        • Philip

          The mere fact that someone disagreed with the very obvious subtext of your post doesn’t mean they’re whining about being oppressed. They’re just pointing out that total lack of honor or integrity is common at all levels of society and at schools independent of ranking or public/private.

          • Linnaeus

            Well, it was actually Farley’s post.

            • Philip

              Well, the same issue stands. Disagreement with the subtext is not the same as “ivy leaguers are oppressed”

              • Linnaeus

                Okay, that’s fair. I guess I just read Rob’s post differently. There’s nothing in the post that suggests that cheating at Harvard is more prevalent than at other non-Ivy institutions. But Harvard remains an elite institution, even if it is (laudably so) more inclusive than it was in the past. Schools like Harvard are the training ground for the American ruling & managerial classes. One could say that about colleges generally, I suppose, but I don’t think it’s especially controversial to say that Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. graduates are particularly highly represented among those who make the important decisions in our society. You may not be in the ruling class when you enter Harvard, but you are more likely to be in it when you leave Harvard.

                So I can understand where Rob’s coming from here. He may have laid it on a bit too thick, but we’re talking about an institution whose members have considerable opportunities and access to power and so the cheating looks more ominous when we take that into consideration.

        • sparks

          So privileged, so aggrieved. It’s wonderful how it’s that everyone’s agin’ them. Just pay no mind that they’re running everything. Into the ground, at that.

          • Marek

            Goldman Sachs is not the same as Harvard.

            • Tybalt

              Yeah, they need a few guys from MIT to do the hard math.

          • Adam

            HYPe alumni or Republicans?

    • mike in dc

      Bah! Harrumph! What do you expect from a safety school?

      Mike in DC, B.A. Cornell, ’90

      • John

        God, even worse than Harvard alums are alums of lesser Ivies. We know you have a chip on your shoulder because you didn’t get into Harvard. You’re not fooling anybody!

    • Marek


  • Davis X. Machina

    My father, after 40 years of teaching:

    Never give them an open-book test. They’ll forget the book.
    Never give them a take-home test. They’ll forget where they live.

    Nowadays, of course, they forget the book, but use the snippets on Google Books, and look up where they live on MapQuest.

    • NonyNony

      Never give them a test where they can use a calculator. They’ll whine when they forget to bring it and insist that it’s unfair that you won’t let them use their iPad (with its connection to the university wireless network) as a suitable replacement.

      • Davis X Machina

        I have an abacus in my drawer, for when in study hall anyone asks “Do you have a calculator I can borrow.” When they throw that back at me, I give them the slide rule.

  • Manju

    Its a take-home test. If you don’t cheat, then you’re disadvantaging yourself because someone else is. It’s like taking PEDs…1/2 the time you’re just evening the playing field.

  • Manju

    This honor code business sounds like old-time wasp prep-school elitism…like amateur athletics being more honorable than professional. I mean, if ur rents got a lot a $, you can afford to do it for the love of sports. But the rest of us gotta eat.

    Relying on the honor code creates the illusion that you are part of a society that can police itself. The cheats are never exposed b/c snitching isn’t honorable either. Better to treat students like animals. Police them. Cameras in the classroom. Constantly remind them of their inner savage.

    This will better prepare them to work on wall street.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Kindly decide whether honor codes are themselves an example of the horrible old-time WASP elitism of the Ivy League or whether the absence of an honor code at Harvard is an example of its horrible old-time WASP elitism.

    • Holden Pattern


    • Manju

      U talking to me, IB? I’m in camp 1. I want a Police State.

      We shouldn’t allow potential criminals to act like cops. We don’t do with the segment of society that produces our future muggers. Therefore, we shouldn’t do it with the ones who will give us our next insider traders.

      • Philip

        I think there is a bit of a misconception here as to what percent of ivy leaguers actually end up in finance…

        • Kal

          Can’t speak directly for Harvard, but at my Ivy my impression was that the proportion of people planning on going into finance was approximately fucking everybody.

        • 25% is a reasonable estimate

          percentage of recent graduates with full time jobs employed in finance according to university surveys

          Harvard 2008 28% 2011 17%
          Yale 2004 26% 2008 19% 2011 14%
          Princeton 2006 46% 2010 36%

          Even with the declines, more Harvard and Princeton graduates entered finance than any other field.

  • rea

    If half the class–125 students–did this on a take-home exam, I would look very closely at the instructions the students were given before concluding tht this was cheating. I very strongly suspect that the students did not think they were cheating, and thought that they were doing something allowed by the rules of the exam.

    • Snake Magnusson

      From the Crimson article about the scandal:

      Another student wrote that he or she joined about 15 other students at a teaching fellow’s office hours on the morning of May 3, just hours before the final take-home exam’s 5 p.m. deadline.

      “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,” the student wrote. “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 had to give us a definition to use for the question.”

      That same student also expressed frustration that [Professor] Platt had canceled his office hours the morning before the exam was due. In a brief email to the class just after 10 a.m. on May 3, Platt apologized for having to cancel his office hours on short notice that day due to an appointment.

      If the class’s teaching fellow gave some (but not all) students a definition to use during the exam after they showed up at his/her office hours held during the exam, it seems to me that there is room for some honest confusion about the application of the no collaboration rule.

      • bph

        Whoa, Harvard faculty have Office Hours? Wouldn’t it be cheaper just to hire a handful of Tufts or BU faculty to cover that?

        • djw

          I think “teaching fellow” is Harvard-speak for TA.

      • Law Spider

        (1) “a term that had never been defined in any of our readings and had not been properly defined in class”. So upper-level Harvard students (much less any Top Tier college student) shouldn’t be expected to be able to use a term without having been provided with a formal definition? They couldn’t have used context, or some other source? I am assuming that the professor had used it repeatedly — note the carefully description of the term not being “properly” defined in class. Oh well then, the students in my Constitutional Interpretation class expecting a formal Webster’s definition of Dworkin’s Moral Philosophy approach are seriously screwed.

        (2) Getting guided assistance from a TA is a completely different animal as collaboration with a fellow student. A TA exists to provide guidance, hopefully carefully circumscribed so as to avoid simply providing the answers. That simply doesn’t justify believing that the exam is “no holds barred”.

        • Snake Magnusson

          Of course you’re right: getting help from a TF/TA during the exam doesn’t mean no holds barred on collaboration. But I could see a situation where there are 15 undergrads all cramming into the TA’s office while the TF expounded on the meaning of this mystery term. If some of the students asked for clarification in the presence of others, it starts to feel a little like the no collaboration rule was relaxed a bit. And if the term was really undefined in the class and reading, and was crucial to answering the question, I could see how some of the students attending office hours would feel it was OK to share what the TF said with their friends who didn’t make it to office hours.

          This is obviously just a theory, and there may well have been a lot of bona fide cheating going on. But the test does seem to have been badly administered (what is the deal with the TF and professor scheduling office hours during the exam?), so I think there may be a relatively innocent explanation for at least some of the students under suspicion.

  • encephalopath

    They studied congress and then applied what they learned.

    Mainly, why do the difficult work yourself when some staffer will do it for you.

  • Your Honor, the State rests.

    George W Bush, Havard MBA, 1975.

  • Your Honor, the State rests.

    Harvard, dammit. Edit please.

  • DrDick

    elite crust that has produced the undergraduate cohort that currently attends Ivy League institutions obviously hasn’t made overmuch effort to establish or reinforce standards of honor, integrity, and fair play

    I am rather certain that they actively discourage such perversities.

  • John

    I hate everything about this story.

    I hate the spoiled Harvard undergrads. I hate the professor who gave what appears to have been a poorly designed exam that should never have been a take home and disappeared. I hate the people who view this as an opportunity to bash Harvard students. And I still hate the Harvard students. Can’t they all shrivel up and die?

    Overall, my basic feeling is that if your method of detecting cheating determines that half of your students “cheated,” the most obvious determination is that this is more a problem with your exam than it is with the students. At the same time, fuck you you cheating Harvard undergraduates. This is like a fight between Hitler and Stalin.

    • brown

      Dartmouth alums are always weird and angry.

  • J
  • latinist

    Come on guys, why isn’t anyone suggesting the obvious, fool-proof solution? Hire 87 new administrators to specialize in the area of Cheating Reduction, who will study the problem. And abolish tenure. How could it fail?

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    The funny thing about this story is that there actually are elements of it that reflect particular, institutional problems of Harvard, most obviously that it took place in an enormous, upper-division course with a reputation for easy grading (an unfortunately common Harvard genre, though by no means the only kind of course offered there). Add in some bad course design and mixed messages from the professor and T.A.s, and it’s not entirely clear how many of the cheaters believed that they were cheating. That’s what the Ad Board has to sort out.

    The problem with this thread is that it’s full of prejudice and stereotyping, as has been repeatedly noted upthread. There’s no question that Harvard’s undergrad body is from a more privileged background than most public universities. But it is simply not the case that every undergrad at Harvard is from a privileged background.

    At any rate, nobody in this thread, as far as I can tell, is claiming that Ivy League students and alums are in any sense oppressed. We’re not. We benefit from enormous privilege, much of it (like a lot of other privilege in our society) unearned. What we’re claiming is that many of the criticisms leveled at Harvard and the Ivy League in this thread are ignorant and content-free, and do a much better job of revealing the writers’ own prejudices than analyzing this story and what it might actually tell us about the state of higher education, in and out of the Ivy League.

    • The problem with this thread is that it’s full of prejudice and stereotyping, as has been repeatedly noted upthread. There’s no question that Harvard’s undergrad body is from a more privileged background than most public universities. But it is simply not the case that every undergrad at Harvard is from a privileged background.

      Cf my beloved, who was, although, a double legacy. However, her parents weren’t super upper crust.

      What we’re claiming is that many of the criticisms leveled at Harvard and the Ivy League in this thread are ignorant and content-free, and do a much better job of revealing the writers’ own prejudices than analyzing this story and what it might actually tell us about the state of higher education, in and out of the Ivy League.

      But maybe y’all should be better sports about being mindlessly mocked? I mean, is it really all that wrong to go la-di-da at a Harvard cheating scandal or to pretend that the student body is all (or mostly) spoiled rich brats? There seem to be other ways to defuse it and to turn the conversation, if that’s what you’d like to do.

      Was the original post intending to “analyz[e] this story and what it might actually tell us about the state of higher education, in and out of the Ivy League”? Did it need to be?

      I’m just puzzled at the vehemence of your reaction (e.g., the “hardscrabble” line earlier).

      • Of course, if you were just responding in kind, i.e., playing the snooty Harvardite, that’s ok. But I didn’t get that sense…

      • LFC

        “is it really all that wrong to … pretend that the student body is all (or mostly) spoiled rich brats?”

        The original post and the thread suggest that people aren’t pretending but seem to believe it, so the answer is yes. (Adam, way upthread, provided what I’m assuming are accurate figures on income level of students’ families. Taking into account the size of the undergrad student body, you end up with quite a lot of students who are not rich, even though it’s admittedly very far from a mirror of the whole US pop.)

        • The original post and the thread suggest that people aren’t pretending but seem to believe it, so the answer is yes.

          The original post is entitled: “You Sir Have the Boorish Manners of a Yalie” — that doesn’t suggest some irony to you?

          (Adam, way upthread, provided what I’m assuming are accurate figures on income level of students’ families. Taking into account the size of the undergrad student body, you end up with quite a lot of students who are not rich, even though it’s admittedly very far from a mirror of the whole US pop.)

          Adam is writing against your point, isn’t he?

          That puts 80% of undergrads in the highest income quintile with 40% from the top 5% of family income. The crustiness of Harvard undergrads does not appear to be a myth.

          What’s more, you wrote:

          Robert Farley might be surprised to find out that, taking the student body as a whole, the distribution of ‘backgrounds’ is not too dissimilar from the institution at which he teaches.

          But you didn’t supply any data. Let me just say that prima facie this is highly unlikely to be true. UK is a state school for a relatively poor state. Harvard is Harvard. State unis tend to serve their state. That you assert that the distributions are going to be equal without any evidence and then persist when Adam shows what a richie-rich distribution Harvard has is…funny! Shouldn’t the 80% give one at least pause?

          So we have Adam’s stats…what’s there for UK? (I admit to having a frustrating time here. But…)

          Washington Monthly says 15% of Harvard students receive Pell grants vs. 22%% of UK students. (Seems low! Closer than I would have expected.) Net price of UK (i.e., for needy students): $13,308. Harvard: $16,459. Harvard is 106th in social mobility vs. UK at 186th…I think this is due to graduation rates (Harvard predicted: 90% actual: 97% vs. UK predicted: 66% and acutal: 58%).

          From college stats we have:


          Instate tuition:$7,096
          Outofstate: $14,896
          %Students on Financial Aid: 91%


          Tuition: $34,998
          %Financial Aid: 77%


          Sorry I couldn’t track down exact income levels, but this data is certainly very suggestive that the distributions are rather different.

          • LFC

            I was probably wrong to suggest that comparison betw. U.Kentucky and Harvard would show ‘not too dissimilar’ distributions. I’ll withdraw that particular remark.

            • Fair enough.

              I don’t want to psychologize too much, but I still think that the defensiveness was overdone. Stereotyping Harvard students in the way done in this thread, esp. with the tongue in cheekitude exhibited, doesn’t seem so bad. Preferable to the reverse, actually.

              The funnier reaction would have been to get all uber snotty about it :)

  • Pingback: Thoughts on the Harvard cheating scandal | richard bowker()

  • How do you think those punks got in the first place?

    Based on their own merit?

  • jr

    Does anyone else see this as an example of regulation and deregulation? The Honor Code is regulation. This is what happens when you deregulate. Now imagine this kind of crap nationwide. That’s Romney’s vision for America.

    • BW

      Nice try, but that’s really dumb. If anything some Honor Codes are often closer to deregulation – they sometimes take enforcement power out of the hands of the administration and leave students to police themselves.

      I don’t mean to be that guy who’s going to come off as an apologist for cheating, but can everyone step back and chill for a bit on this? Despite the media hysteria, we still don’t know what the hell really happened. It could be a case of 250 jocks all copying half the final verbatim off one another. It could be a case of a junior professor distracted by the tenure chase and writing shitty questions that nobody understands, then flying off the handle, unaware that everyone had simply parroted a bit of whatever their TF told them in that office hours session when people were freaking out about a question using terms nobody had heard before. Or it could have been anything in between or something else entirely. We don’t know.

      The real call should be for Harvard to be as transparent as possible with the results of its investigation, releasing everything that won’t be a breach of student privacy. Ideally I’d like to be able to see samples of “copied” essays with names redacted so people can judge for themselves whether or not the conduct was improper.

  • Pingback: “Most institutions do not even have grades of A with multiple pluses after it.” - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()