Notes on a cheating scandal



Back in late August, Harvard announced that 125 of its undergraduate students had cheated on a take-home final examination for a government class called “Introduction to Congress.” The incident is said to be the largest cheating scandal in the school’s history.
The course, comprised on 279 students and taught by Assistant Professor Matthew B. Platt was said to be “easy” or even “very easy,” with minimal homework and a light grading system. Given the final exam at the end of the 2012 Spring semester, students were told that the test was “open notes, open book, open internet, etc.” The directions on the exam specifically stated, “students may not discuss the exam with others- this includes resident tutors, writing centers, etc,” according to The Harvard Crimson.
Platt discovered similarities on the exams that led him to believe that students had collaborated or plagiarized. The same strings of words were used, along with the same misinterpreted and incorrect answers, and a typo in the same word on a bonus question.
The Harvard Crimson reported that students taking the class did not understand the questions on the test and could not reach the instructor at his office hours.
Questions have been raised as to whether or not what the students should be punished for collaborating on the exam that they thought was challenging and confusing.
We have all had our fair share of “unfair” classes in college. Sometimes exams do not reflect the content learned in class, or the questions on it deviate from what the textbook or notes say. Are these valid excuses for collaborating on an exam that specifically said, “Students may not discuss the exam with others?” If 125 people did it, is it wrong?
The Beacon believes that this incident very well counts as cheating. No matter how hard an exam is, it must be done alone, unless otherwise stated. That is how exams work. Collaborating does not allow for an accurate measure of individual knowledge. If multiple people work on an exam, how is the professor supposed to know who actually knew the answers and who was just copying others?
The Beacon suggest that students attending Harvard feel that since they are attending such a prestigious school, the pressure of keeping an extremely high GPA was enough to drive these students into dishonesty. With such high expectations, students are willing to go to great lengths to achieve the grades they need to succeed. Pressured by parents, teachers, and future employers, students become desperate if they are not doing as well as they should be.
Since the scandal was announced, many fingers have been pointed at who is to blame. Whose fault is it that students cheated? Parents? The Professor? The Beacon is surprised that such a question was really even up for debate.  Students need to take responsibility and recognize that what they did was wrong, even if they did not agree with the professor’s methods of teaching or testing.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, Professor Platt did not make attendance to his class mandatory. That being said, students frequently skipped the class. Is this poor teaching? The Beacon doesn’t think so.
College is the first chance you get to learn responsibility. Platt gave his students the option of attending his class.
There comes a time when students need to step up and take responsibility for their own lives. This means attending class even when you do not have to. This means going above and beyond the expected to get work done efficiently and effectively.
Many students attempt to cruise through school by doing the bare minimum. College is not the place for that. Those who work hard, study, and attend class are those who are going to succeed.
Under no circumstances should students cheat to justify an exam grade.