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Over 100 Harvard Students Suspected Of Cheating

(EJP Photo/Flickr)

(EJP Photo/Flickr)

Veritas, or truth. That’s the word emblazoned on the official seal of Harvard University. But on Thursday, the university confirmed that it is currently investigating one of the most widespread academic misconduct scandals in recent memory.

The investigation reportedly centers on a final exam administered last spring in an undergraduate government class. WBUR obtained a copy of the take-home test. The first page contains these rules:

The exam is completely open book, open note, open internet etc. 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.

However, more than 125 students are alleged to have done just that. Charges range from collaboration to outright plagiarism. And while Harvard will not reveal the names of the students or the extent of its investigation, the allegations have launched a campus-wide conversation about academic integrity.

But the problem isn’t Harvard’s alone. According to some studies, a third of college students admit to cheating on tests.

Are students being pushed to achieve at all costs, even if it costs them their integrity? Or are we all just living in a broader culture of cheating? Has the meaning of “cheating” changed in the digital age, when information is freely shared and collaboration celebrated?


  • Kate Carlow, junior at Harvard University. This past spring she was a student in the government class under question, but she is not one of the students suspected of cheating.
  • Tricia Bertram Gallant, director of the Academic Integrity Office at the University of California, San Diego and author of “Creating the Ethical Academy: A Systems Approach to Understanding Misconduct and Empowering Change in Higher Education.”
  • Howard Gardner, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, author of “Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed: Educating for the Virtues in the Age of Twitter and Truthiness”, and co-author of “Making Good: How Young People Cope with Moral Dilemmas at Work.”



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  • HypocorismGowpen
  • J__o__h__n

    How do you think they got into Harvard in the first place?

  • Mike_Card

    Over-stressed, over-booked?  Do these poor, over-worked entitled babies not understand how to read instructions??  What do they think cheating is?

  • J__o__h__n

    The instructions weren’t complicated.  That rationalizing made me sick.  Then again, I thought Harvard was supposed to be hard.  Open book tests? 

  • J__o__h__n

    “Expect more from the elite schools” — What a snob!  Where is the evidence that the elite have better ethics?  Wall Street?

    • Meghna Chakrabarti

      Hi John, thanks for your comment. A few other people mentioned this as well, and if you read my comments above, you’ll see that I do wish I had pushed back harder on this. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what college you went to – we should expect more from everybody.

  • Rex Henry

    IT’S A TAKE HOME TEST. That means no rules. No proctor. Find the answers. Learn it. Pass the test. Non. Issue.

  • Nico447766

    Is this student serious?  Talking with someone about the
    answers to the exam is CHEATING. I had open-note take-home exams in college (15
    years ago) and the line was very clear to me.  Collaboration does not
    apply here.  The instructions were clear.  You have your written
    sources to help with the answers to the exam, but not living, breathing,
    talking sources who live down the hall in the dorm and or even who live across
    campus with whom you communicate electronically. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ignatius-Ibsage/100002920894519 Ignatius Ibsage

    its the tip of the iceberg. this is what you get from a politically correct education that promotes equal outcomes instead of equal opportunity.

    • J__o__h__n

      or cut throat rugged individualism that makes success its only virtue.

  • Emackenzied

    I found it surprising that no one mentioned the idea that in other classes there may be no take home tests, and the majority of tests you take in life are INDIVIDUAL. I understand collaboration is important and valuable, but as a student, when you hear “Test on Friday”, normally you can assume you’re doing it alone. What makes a take-home test (where you’re allowed more resources, including the internet) different?

  • http://twitter.com/145lewis Mike Lewis

    Magna and Professor Gardener,

    I’d like to express my severe disappointment in today’s show, especially with your comments, Professor Gardener’s. The situation in question is only in its investigative stage. Diagnosing it as “a thinning of the ethical muscle,” seems overly simplistic at best, at worst an entirely unjust assumption. 

    Isn’t 50% statistically significant enough to at least discuss that nature of the class, the assignments, the student motives; before concluding that it resulted from a lack of ethics? Professor Gardener you are a revered researcher. If the magnitude of corruption is as wide spread as you presented, why not discuss what questions the faculty could ask on a systemic level.  

    If students blatantly disregarded the rules, that breech of integrity is no frivolous matter. 

    But, Professor Gardner, as you said, “They should be held accountable for what they did, of course we don’t know in each case what they did.” 

    I don’t claim to have any first hand knowledge of the Harvard culture. So, I’ll have to imagine what my own elementary classroom would look like if I were to publicly shame my students without a full understanding of what transpired. 

    Professor Gardener, I’m surprised you “expect(s) more of Harvard students.” I don’t think the nature of today’s discussion lived up to those high expectations. You are welcome to come and observe a happy and productive classroom, where students beam with integrity, any time you’d like. 

    Magna, I’d be happy to discuss educational situations where collaboration is beneficial and situations where collaboration can be inhibitive. As you talked about, it plays a pretty large role in our society and should be better understood.  In fact, I’m sure my students would be able to discuss it as well. 

    All you have to do is ask. 


    • Meghna Chakrabarti

      Mike, Many thanks for your comment. It’s thoughtful, and deserves a thoughtful response.

      As I hope you heard during the segment, I did state specifically that Harvard has not released the names of the students it is investigating, nor the depth of its inquiries. To that end, I tried to avoid a public shaming, as you write. Additionally, we opened the segment with a student who was in the class. She was able to describe the nature of the course, of previous exams, of the circumstances of finals week — all excellent context to help understand better if the alleged cheating was due more to specifics of the course. However, I understand if you might feel that we didn’t ask the student for enough pertinent information. Unfortunately, there’s never enough time on the radio to ask as many follow-ups as we’d like.Regarding collaboration. I absolutely agree that we cannot and should not lump collaboration and cheating together. That is why I very specifically asked if our definition of collaboration (and its import) has changed enough such that it renders  old fashioned notions of cheating irrelevant. This is a subtle and complex issue, and I don’t claim to have any answers. But I do agree, that we shouldn’t just come to knee-jerk conclusions about what’s collaboration and what is not. I appreciate your offer to discuss beneficial collaboration – but please be assured that I know of many, many educational situations where collaboration is highly effective. Frankly, I *work* in an environment right now where collaboration is absolutely essential to what we do.

      As for your observation that there was too much focus on “how could this happen at Harvard”, and that we “expect better” from Harvard, I completely agree. And though I tried to bring in study findings to show that there’s evidence of genuine cheating at some fairly surprising rates across all American college campuses, I may have not been forceful enough in making this point at several times during the segment.

      Overall, if we’re able to acknowledge that there are many issues at play here — use of collaboration in education, good old fashioned integrity, and what Professor Gardner called “market forces” at play in higher education that may push student choice and behavior — I think there’s reason enough to believe that something significant did happen at Harvard, that it’s probably indicative of something deeper, and that it makes the questions of what we want students to learn (beyond strict academics), and how do we wish for them to grow, as important as ever.

      Thank you again for your comments and feedback. It’s much appreciated.

      • http://twitter.com/145lewis Mike Lewis

        Thank you for you thoughtful response. And, I’m sorry about the misspelling, Meghna. 

        I agree that the larger discussion regarding cheating on college campuses was well supported and judiciously discussed. 

        I was trying to avoid stating my own assumptions in my comment but my underlying skepticism lies within the traditional model of education. Kate made note that collaboration was permitted on the three previous tests but not on the final. 

        There’s no question that our society is in a stage similar to the onset of electricity. Suddenly there’s room to invent radio and television. Likewise with the connective power of the internet. But, it doesn’t mean there’s no more room for solitary study. 

        I just would have appreciated discussion with Professor Gardener about why that final needed to be independent. I’d rather have students work independently early so that they get a sense of what they know and don’t know. Towards the end of a unit, all I care about is that they understand the material so, therefore, I wouldn’t care how they study. 

        It’s been my experience both personally and with my students that when solid rationale is provided, regardless of whether everyone agrees, the request is honored. So to hear that many students disregarded the policy makes me question the institution and course more so than the students. 

        Thanks again for your thoughtful consideration.

    • Meghna Chakrabarti

      Sorry for the odd formatting in my comment below. I do know where paragraph breaks should go, but I’m afraid the computer doesn’t. 

  • elsa1001

    I was also very disappointed with the tone and presentation of this
    story on Radio Boston.  All of the contributors to the story conveyed to
    the audience that this scandal was more significant because it took
    place at Harvard University – where the moral high ground is oh so much
    higher than every other institution.  As if to say, “If this is
    happening at Harvard… imagine what could be going on at Bunker Hill
    Community College!?”  Please. Its absurd to think that integrity and
    morality are related to someone’s ability to afford the astronomic
    tuition at Harvard or even at best to someone’s IQ.  Just because
    someone is smart or rich  does not imply they have an ounce or

    • Meghna Chakrabarti

      Elsa1001 – I couldn’t agree with you more, and it was my mistake not emphasizing this point more forcefully throughout the segment. I tried to make it clear at least once (by introducing data from several studies that show at least 30% of ALL college students admit to teaching) that this issue extends far beyond Harvard. I should have done that more clearly and more often. Havard puts this story in the headlines (unfortunate, but true), but also the sheer numbers of students allegedly involved. Nevertheless, to me, it doesn’t matter one bit that this happened at an Ivy League school. I agree with you completely that ethics, integrity, morality, humanity have absolutely zero correlation with IQ and income. Thanks again for your comment. I’m glad you brought this up.

  • http://twitter.com/rockthefaith Rocky Villegas

    Talking about cheating in a Harvard classroom.

Hosts Meghna Chakrabarti and Anthony Brooks introduce us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and bring us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3.

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