Not From the Onion: Harvard Cheaters

by on August 31, 2012 at 2:21 pm in Current Affairs, Education | Permalink

The NYTimes reports that Harvard is investigating “what could be its largest cheating scandal in memory.” Attention is focused on about 125 students in one course but Harvard would not say which course. The Harvard Crimson, however, has revealed that the course is “Introduction to Congress”!

I say give the cheaters an A and fail the rest.

dearieme August 31, 2012 at 2:46 pm

“Introduction to Congress”: do they mean sexual congress?

Brian August 31, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Give me skepticism about policy and government. This is a cynical. However, I’ll chalk it up to humor. For the record, here is my favorite cynical speech of all time (and, it also happens to be funny as well….showing that humor doesn’t always completely repair the damage from thy cynicism).

First prize goes to Alan Grayson…

here’s the clip.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-usmvYOPfco

Jamie August 31, 2012 at 4:31 pm

That is so terribly uncivil. Uncouth. Rude.

Now where is that black socialist Nazi’s papers?

Ryan August 31, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Matthew Platt is smarter than you think. It is all a lesson in unintended consequences.

jtf August 31, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Har har. My brother complains to me every week about how blatantly some of the graduate students in his classes at Columbia cheat, and how many undergrads have “course bibles” from previous years.

Jerome Turner August 31, 2012 at 7:46 pm

But this is simply laziness on the part of the professor. I write new questions every single semester and post the old versions online. Shouldn’t we expect the same if not more from a Harvard professor earning an insane salary?

PQuincy August 31, 2012 at 9:15 pm

What makes you think that a Harvard professor making an insane salary is teaching a standard survey entitled “Introduction to Congress”?

Rahul September 1, 2012 at 1:00 am

Feynman taught Introduction to Physics.

Doc Merlin September 1, 2012 at 3:58 pm

only once.

The Other Jim August 31, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Since when does a high salary mean you have to put in effort?
Have you ever read Paul Krugman?

Charlie September 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm

PK works about 80 hours a week.

hgrad August 31, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I suspect this is more complicated that the headlines would have you believe. Here is a plausible scenario: a few people put together a study guide, it gets passed around, everybody memorizes the answers to potential questions, and thus all the answer look the same on the final and a TA freaks out. Not obvious that this constitutes cheating unless the prof specifically disallowed sharing study notes prior to the exam.

Roger August 31, 2012 at 5:30 pm

I sure hope that memorizing from a study guide isn’t viable on an open-everything take-home test. In my experience all tests like that are writing-based, whether they’re multiple long questions or several short essays. If you allow people to use textbooks, notes, and the internet on a take-home test, then it would have to be pretty poorly written/thought out if a common study guide was able to throw up plagiarism flags.

ezra abrams August 31, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Dear Tyler: in regard to the “you didn’t build that ” meme, if President Obama did not mean “if you built a business, you needed roads and bridges, and you didn’t build those” but rather something like “if you built a buisness, you didn’t really build it…”

In the right wing view, who does the right wing think that Obama thinks built it ?
or, in the right wing view, what is obama’s thinking here – if the owner didn’t build the biz, who did ?

thanks for this public service

Paul Johnson August 31, 2012 at 5:53 pm

A lazy speechwriter clumsily plagiarised Elizabeth Warren’s “there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own” speech.

It doesn’t help that he also said “Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the internet.” I think most people with a little tech knowledge know that no single person or organization “created” the internet and certainly not with a conscious design to help companies make money.

Doug August 31, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Carjacker: “That ain’t your car. You didn’t build that. If it wasn’t for car companies that the government bailed out you wouldn’t have been able to buy that car. Now hand it over.”

maguro August 31, 2012 at 7:14 pm

The government. Who else?

Andrew' August 31, 2012 at 9:00 pm

They were playing a game of telephone with Elizabeth Warren on the front end and Obama at the end.

JPE August 31, 2012 at 9:23 pm

The idea is that it was a rhetoric heavy and particularly offensive way to restate the underlying theme of the speech, which was “you’re taking too much credit for your accomplishments, you owe a lot of that to glorious mother government” [no cough up your fair share in taxes]

Vernunft August 31, 2012 at 6:20 pm

How stupid do you have to be to need to cheat in a non-STEM course?!

Mike August 31, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Laziness more than stupidity.

Frank September 1, 2012 at 12:40 am

Coordination more than laziness.

Carol Swartz September 1, 2012 at 6:28 am

Students act as if a diploma is the same as an education and we have not disabused them of this notion. Students follow the path of least resistance and that means cheating even in easy courses to free up time for important activities like updating their Facebook page.

Many, many students would buy the diploma if Harvard would sell it.

Matt W August 31, 2012 at 6:37 pm

I recently completed a (STEM) Master’s degree at a public university. Some teachers gave take-home exams with the exhortation that students not collaborate. My experience was that this just did not make sense to my fellow students. If the exam was given to the students to take home, then the professor could not reasonably expect them not to collaborate. Professors must be speaking in code or something: “Do not collaboroate, wink wink.” Else there would not be opportunity to do so, right? Being STEM professors, statistics were employed to demonstrate that students had cheated (grade distribution ridiculously narrow; high correlation among incorrect responses.) But, not being able to “prove” anything, the consequence was typically to disallow further take-home exams. Exam “study groups” offered to include me; I declined and simply kicked all their asses on my own.

somaguy August 31, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Matt’s experience pretty much mirrors my own. In all of my STEM courses, take-home assignments (be they homeworks or “finals”) were pretty much expected to be a collaborative effort, whether it was allowed or not. Hence why in probably 1/2 of the courses the homeworks weren’t even collected and in the other 1/2 they counted for maybe 5-10% of the total grade. The one take-home final I had also counted for about 5% of the grade and was based on amusing open-ended questions (the class did have three mid-terms, one of which was given at the end of the quarter and which in total accounted for maybe 80% of the grade).

Professors are given adequate time in a monitored environment to determine what the students have learned; it’s up to them to figure out how to do this. Giving students a take-home assignment and expecting them not to collaborate, otoh, in a joke. It’s like telling a cat to stay put and being upset when it’s off somewhere else an hour later. What did you expect?

King Cynic September 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm

What would I expect? Integrity, honesty, and self-control from a group of students who are presumed to be capable of all three. We should expect more from them than we do from a cat.

Professors may be naive to think students don’t cheat, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to crush those students who get caught doing it.

Helen DeWitt September 2, 2012 at 8:23 am

Perhaps professors are likelier to come from the pool of naive students who don’t cheat? When I was an undergraduate at Oxford I was obsessed with my subject and my closest friends were people like me; we shared reading lists, but it would never have occurred to me to, say, use someone else’s essay in a tutorial and I don’t think anyone I knew would have done so. I did some teaching as a graduate student; I later heard that one of my students had boasted that she had used her boyfriend’s essays. These did not count toward one’s official assessment, but I was still shocked – it seemed to defeat the whole point of going to Oxford in the first place. (Examinations were all invigilated; while it may have been possible to cheat, no one could have imagined that the examiners were colluding by making it easy to do so.)

Paul August 31, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Alex, why reward the cheaters? I don’t care about following stupid rules, but cheaters displayed: 1. a lack of effort in learning or responding to the course material, and 2. a lack of Intelligence for failing to cheat in a way that is not detectable.

maguro August 31, 2012 at 7:15 pm

It was a joke, dude. Cause Congress is dishonest. Get it?

Paul August 31, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Yeah yeah, i got it right after i posted. I thought at first tabarrok was making some crazy libertarian claim about rewarding those clever enough to beat the system, etc..

Andrew' August 31, 2012 at 9:02 pm

That’s why you have ethics pledges. So when people get caught intentionally breaking it you can expunge them.

Dan Hanson August 31, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Reading the second link, it does appear more complicated – what it looks like to me is that a bad teacher put together a question so confusing that none of the students could even understand what was being asked, so they sought clarification on the question – not the answer – and this was deemed cheating.

Dismalist August 31, 2012 at 7:54 pm

My first impression indeed was that the instructor was an idiot, but upon digesting more information, it appears to me that many students in the class are lazy, stupid idiots. I am incredibly heartened that episodes such as this virtually guarantee social and economic mobility!

–Cheery Dismalist, today.

dk September 3, 2012 at 10:43 am

Those aren’t mutually exclusive ;) Platt’s record is atrocious–how he got to Harvard, and how he remains there is a mystery. He should be getting VAP gigs at non top-40 schools.

Mark Thorson August 31, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Tyler’s stratagem of giving the student the tasks of both creating the question and then answering it is starting to look better and better. How would one “cheat” on that assignment?

Mike in Qingdao August 31, 2012 at 7:54 pm

We know that Xi Jinping’s daughter is at Harvard. Any chance the the students are Chinese?

* Plagiarism is not considered cheating in China
**Cheating is not considered cheating in China

oki August 31, 2012 at 8:56 pm

why would she need to cheat? Bo Xi Lai’s kid never cheated on anything, as a true prince he was given the right to re-take stuff if he failed but Harvard isnt stupid, just like Oxford wasnt stupid either. Alumni connections to a monstrous Asian oligarch family is a huge coup for the soulless donation collectors who inhibit those kinds of offices.

Daniel Francis August 31, 2012 at 10:17 pm

I read that this was on a take-home test. In which case, nobody involved probably considered it cheating and I wouldn’t either.

Dismalist August 31, 2012 at 10:47 pm

But, it seems, many wrote the same crap! Individually rational and collectively stupid? No, just stupid!

Predator Katt September 1, 2012 at 12:26 am

Tyler’s response is too simple.
A more appropriate way to identify and promote future members of Congress would be to have an
independent and more rigorous evaluation of the students’ work for possible cheating.
Those who are NOT caught by Harvard but ARE found to be cheating by the control
comparison are the REAL prospects for a stint in Congress.The have the “right stuff”.

Related-Harvard must be outraged and be planning severe consequences for the guilty (unless it costs them a building,of course).
“Stealing from the public treasury is to be avoided.Big crooks are especially ruthless in punishing little crooks”-Diogenes

Carol swartz September 1, 2012 at 6:20 am

Hallelujah!! Let’s hope other Universities, students, faculty, and administrations begin to take integrity seriously. It matters in education; it matters in government; it matters in business, and it matters in our personal relationships. Integrity matters.

L. F. File September 1, 2012 at 8:02 am

It is hard to see – maybe because it is not there – the difference between the “deadweight” nature of health insurance costs regardless of who receives the payments.

lff

Floccina September 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Sorry get serious it a humorous post but here goes:
We need a separation of education and testing.

Paul September 1, 2012 at 4:00 pm

It is worth noting that this kind of cheating, that is, working together on supposedly independent assignments is extremely widespread and essentially normal. At least it was in my time as an ivy league student and also as an instructor. The 50% does not surprise me.

It is easy and fun to mock harvard students as stupid, but the prevalence of this practice suggests our education / evaluation model is severely flawed.

freethinker September 2, 2012 at 3:26 am

In one college in northern part of India the president was beaten so badly by some students that he was hospitalized. The reason: he told them they will not be allowed to copy in the examinations! These guys will wonder what the fuss in Harvard is all about.

Eddie S. September 6, 2012 at 11:28 pm

The biggest mass cheating of my undergraduate career that I witnessed was in a course titled “Investment Banking” and taught by a former Goldman exec. Shocking, right?

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