Allegations of widespread cheating in government class probed at Harvard
August 30th, 2012
07:29 PM ET

Allegations of widespread cheating in government class probed at Harvard

Harvard University is investigating allegations that almost half the students in an undergraduate class last spring may have plagiarized or "inappropriately collaborated" on their final exams, the school announced Thursday.

Following an initial investigation, Harvard's administrative board, which enforces academic regulations, undertook "a comprehensive review of the more than 250 take-home final exams" submitted at the end of a course, the school said in a statement.

The Harvard Crimson, the school's flagship student-run newspaper, identified the class in which the cheating allegedly occurred as Government 1310: Introduction to Congress.

A document on the website of Harvard's registrar's office says the class had 279 students.

"We take academic integrity very seriously because it goes to the heart of our educational mission," said Michael D. Smith, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, in a written statement.

Last semester during grading, "the faculty member teaching the course questioned the similarities between a number of exams," according to the statement.

The board then reviewed the questionable exams and interviewed the students who submitted them, eventually launching a wider review along with the class's professor, the statement said.

That review is still underway.

A copy of the take-home exam found on Harvard's website shows that it laid out a series rules for students to follow.

"The exam is completely open book, open note, open internet, etc.," the instructions begin. "However, in all other regards, this should fall under similar guidelines that apply to in-class exams. More specifically, students may not discuss the exam with others ... this includes resident tutors, writing centers, Etc."

Among the exam's questions was an essay requiring students to address the question: "Do interest groups make Congress more or less representative as an institution?"

Students had one week to complete the exam.

Matthew B. Platt, the assistant professor in the school's department of government who taught the class, did not immediately respond to a voice mail and an e-mail from CNN.

The initial reaction on campus is one of shock, according to Ben Samuels, a senior and the editor of the Harvard Crimson.

"I think we're pretty surprised by it," he said. "This appears to be on a scale that's fairly unprecedented at least from we've seen in the past."

Samuels said there had been chatter about a major cheating incident for several days prior to Thursday's announcement.

"There had been some talk that there was some sort of cheating scandal that was beyond the scope of what you would normally see," he said.

The school said those found guilty of "academic dishonesty" could be forced to withdraw from the college for a year, in addition to facing other, unspecified disciplinary actions.

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

The school's fall semester begins next week.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. genomega1

    "We take academic integrity very seriously"
    Back in the day you did. Today not so much.

    August 30, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dean of Academics

      They'll make fine democrats one day.

      August 31, 2012 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  2. banasy©

    I find it hilarious that the course involved is 'Government 1310: Introduction to Congress.'

    August 30, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. bobcat (in a hat)©

    Kind of gives a good indication of how our lawmakers got their start.

    August 30, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. bobcat (in a hat)©

    In class one day, Mr. Johnson pulled Johnny over to his desk after a test, and said, “Johnny I have a feeling that you have been cheating on your tests.”
    Johnny was astounded and asked Mr. Johnson to prove it. “Well, said Mr. Johnson, I was looking over your test and the question was, ‘Who was our first president?’, and the little girl that sits next to you, Mary, put ‘George Washington,’ and so did you.”

    “So, everyone knows that he was the first president.”

    “Well, just wait a minute,” said Mr. Johnson. “The next question was, ‘Who freed the slaves?’ Mary put Abraham Lincoln and so did you.”

    “Well, I read the history book last night and I remembered that,” said Johnny.

    “Wait, wait,” said Mr. Johnson. The next question was, ‘Who was president during the Louisiana Purchase?’ Mary put ‘I don't know,’ and you put, ‘Me neither’.”

    August 30, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Hamsta

    This explains why Obama is a failire as president, he cheated his way through Harvard.

    August 31, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mack Mangham

      No, it explains why he is president.

      September 4, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  6. Truth Seeker

    What happened to all the other comments here (there were over 100)??!!!

    September 3, 2012 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mack Mangham

    Well, Hell, I don't see the problem!!! With open book, access to the Internet and professors who teach the preferred sources, why shouldn't they all come up with the same answers? If they didn't, it would be more surprising. Besides, what difference does it make? If they know how to get the same (and correct) answers on a test at Harvard, thay will be able to acomplish the same goal in the real world. If they all came up with the same wrong answers, that's when Harvard should worry ... and more about their professors than the students.

    September 4, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  8. Doc

    Here are the upcoming legislators – they will go far in politics!

    September 24, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |