On February 1, Harvard University leveraged sanctions against more than 60 students for cheating on an “Introduction to Congress” final exam. The decision was issued months after a teaching assistant accused the students of sharing answers on the test. Harvard investigated and some students to withdraw for two to four terms. Others were placed on disciplinary probation. The conclusion to this cheating probe has rattled the prestigious institution’s community.
“Introduction to Congress” is a prerequisite that has a reputation for granting an A to most enrollees. But the open-book, take-home exam seemed impossible to complete without collaborating, which Slate writer, Farhad Manjoo, asserts should be encouraged instead of condemned.
He writes, “What they did — work together to find an answer — should be encouraged. But too often in higher education, such collaboration is either given short shrift or actively penalized. Students are instead forced to find the answers on their own, in marked contrast to how they’ll be expected to behave once they graduate.”
Several of the students agree with Manjoo, telling the New York Times that it was assumed that collaboration was allowed on the exam. Throughout the course students shared lecture notes, reading materials, and other information to enhance their understanding. However, the test’s rules strictly forbid students from exchanging answers.
The rules stated, “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 — this includes resident tutors, writing centers, etc.”
Though Manjoo notes these rules in his assessment, he also praises the students for their ingenuity and craftiness.
“Outside of Harvard, these students won’t face many situations in which they’ll be prohibited from consulting with other people,” he writes. “Instead, they’ll have to act exactly as the alleged ‘cheaters’ did in this case.”
What the writer fails to note is that the world outside of Harvard also expects workers to adhere to specific restrictions. Most college students are gifted with syllabi at the beginning of each semester. Instructors use this to establish guidelines and outline the consequences of academic dishonesty. By accepting the syllabus, students agree to abide by the terms of the theoretical contract.
The burgeoning scholars were aware that collaborating on the final exam was forbidden, but chose to ignore the boundaries. Their blatant disregard for guidelines deserves punishment. Cheating is cheating, no matter the circumstances, and these students risked expulsion the moment they exchanged answers. All actions have consequences.