The Ethics Sage Addresses Harvard Cheating Scandal


Steven Mintz
Steven Mintz

The Ethics Sage Addresses Harvard Cheating Scandal

Should Students who cheated at Harvard be Rewarded or Punished? – Ethics Sage

I do think the students violated the rules in this case and should be held accountable for their actions. However, there were mitigating circumstances not the least of which was from the teaching assistants who seemed to work with those students who came forward asking for help to interpret information and develop responses to test questions.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned from the Harvard cheating scandal is we, in academe, need a new approach to evaluating the benefits and potential harms of collaboration. It can be a great teaching tool and mirrors collaborative effort in the workplace. Test questions in a collaborative enivornment can better assess analytical reasoning and critical thinking skills, two skills essential for success in today’s workplace.

The level playing field argument is key in evaluating the use and purpose of student collaboration. Academic integrity is at stake. Collaborative effort may impair fairness in the grading process unless collaboration is expected of all students. Otherwise, those who “play by the rules” may receive lower grades because they worked individually while those who shared information may benefit from such an approach.

Should Students who cheated at Harvard be Rewarded or Punished? – Ethics Sage

The Ethics Sage, Steven Mintz, discusses the Harvard cheating scandal in his latest post. I find his reasoning compelling and I agree in full with his ethical reasoning in this case. The students’ instructions from their various teaching assistants were less than clear. Further, the modern technique of collaborative learning needs more in depth ethical analysis, and clearer rules. It’s a good piece of work. Don’t be satisfied with this brief section. Go to the Ethics Sage’s web site and read it in full and while you’re there sign up for e-mail alerts for later essays.

James Pilant

From around the web –

From the web site, Janitorial Musings:

Unfortunately, I suspect they’ll find that achieving and maintaining fame and fortune requires just as much corner-cutting as getting their grades at school. After all, those same kids who have no qualms with cheating in school soon enter the business world. And those who tell themselves that they are only cheating to keep up with the cheaters will tell themselves that they must do the same outside of academics. I’ve been involved in a part of business–not as a janitor–where I was surprised to learn how many ways and how often our competitors would do small dishonest things to get the edge over us. It made me think: if people are this dishonest with the small things, I wonder whether it is all the more so with bigger things? (Maybe not. I recall seeing a report that said in relationships men are more likely to lie about small things they deem unimportant and women are more likely to lie about big things they deem important. Maybe when it comes to big things in the business world, people are less likely to be dishonest?)

From the web site, Erik B. Wilson:

Indeed cheating in academia is nothing new and to view this particular instance as somehow extraordinary within greater academia would be naïve. That is not to say that systematic cheating is widespread at Harvard, but odds are there have been plenty of cheaters in Harvard’s history as an institution. Perhaps they were single students acting alone, perhaps they were groups that went unnoticed, but doubtless they did exist. The school’s reputation is of course the underlying factor that makes this story so noteworthy – it is quite difficult to imagine a similar ruckus concerning cheating at a local community college. There is an assumption about Harvard, a presumed integrity that goes along with the status and prestige of the Harvard name, one that places the members of the student body somehow above cheating. However, these students and their actions are informed by society writ large – they do not stand apart from it. And as such if we seek to understand the incentives that compel cheating we must consider the social fabric in which they are embedded.

And finally, from the web site, phoebecurran:

After news broke of the collaborative cheating efforts of over 120 students in an “Introduction to Congress” course at Harvard University last spring, the honesty and conduct of college students are being questioned. University students are typically young, but surely old enough to know right from wrong.

Eric Kester, a recent Harvard graduate, wrote a memoir, published in July, which details many instances where dishonesty dominated good character throughout his four years at the university. He said there were a number of take-home tests that were completed with group efforts, notes passed in bathrooms during exams, and research papers written and sold. Kester said he never cheated, but he certainly understood the pressures that came along with an Ivy league education.


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