These are our future business and political leaders ensuring unabated corruption continues for generations to come.
It's world-views like these students' which explains why articles like this Onion spoof are sadly funny: http://www.theonion.com/articles/wealthy-teen-nearly-experie...
Also, even if the exam was "unrelated to the lectures", tough luck; they are paying a lot for a degree, on the understanding that the school makes the rules. If the school is being unfair, the correct response is not to cheat; it's to stop placing so much weight on a degree that really doesn't mean much.
Finally, your suggested analogy between frivolous patents and a supposedely unfair exam is nonsense. The correct analogy would be between a business that ignores a patent because it is convinced the patent is unfounded and would not stand up to a court challenge, and an employer that ignores a C in Government from Harvard (for a job applicant who took the hit on an unfair exam rather than cheat) because it knows Harvard's grades are no longer an accurate reflection of a person's job potential.
> business that ignores a patent because it is convinced the patent is unfounded and would not stand up to a court challenge
Same thing here. The students may be convinced the cheating charge would not stand up to a court challenge, hence they threaten to sue.
> an employer that ignores a C in Government from Harvard (for a job applicant who took the hit on an unfair exam rather than cheat)
The applicant wouldn't get that far. The resume would be filtered out by software before the interview. The applicant would lose the job to the cheater. It's a dog-eat-dog world.
(Also, it's laughable to suggest that Harvard students are stuck with minimum wage if they don't cheat on exams. We're talking about Harvard; most employers won't even care what the applicant's GPA was.)
I said they won't get much past minimum wage if they take the attitude "tough luck". Successful people get used to knocking down the hurdles others endlessly throw at them, often unfairly.
Well, yes, if you lump all the things you named together and call them all "cheating" without differentiating between them, yes, everyone "cheats". But I don't think everyone would agree that all the things you named should be lumped together. That's a subjective judgment, which means we probably won't get anywhere arguing about it--but see further comment below.
> Successful people get used to knocking down the hurdles others endlessly throw at them, often unfairly.
But the way you are putting it, anything I don't like or anything I don't want to comply with is just a "hurdle" that I'm justified in knocking down. By your logic, if I want my boss's job, it would be OK for me to murder him and then fill the vacant position; after all, he's just a "hurdle", right? Or if you don't think that would be OK, where do you draw the line? What principle lets me differentiate between things that are just "hurdles" that I'm allowed to knock down to be successful, and things that I'm not?
Easy: employ your own ethics system built around the Golden Rule, rather than blindly follow a system designed largely to make rich people richer.
Wouldn't this system forbid you from cheating?
"All versions and forms of the proverbial Golden Rule have one aspect in common: they all demand that people treat others in a manner in which they themselves would like to be treated." The Golden Rule doesn't only demand that you treat others that way; it also demands that others treat you that way, which may require action on your part.
But how do you know what's fair? More to the point, how do you know what all the other people, whom you're supposed to treat the way they themselves would like to be treated, think is fair? You've assumed that cheating on an exam which you believe to be unrelated to the course material is "fair"; how do you know all the other people who are affected by your action would agree?
Also, I probably should have made it clearer at the outset that judging that something is "unfair" to you is highly subjective and prone to error. I do not really believe that the exams the Harvard students cheated on were "unfair"; I think the students were just too lazy to learn the material and then tried to weasel out of the consequences. But they themselves probably sincerely believe that the exam was unfair and unrelated to the course. The fact that so much was at stake makes their judgment that the exam was unfair quite different from, for example, my judgment that I know better than the people who put up speed limit signs what a "safe" speed is under the current driving conditions. See further comments below.
> You get the gold by leveraging your renewed equal opportunity.
Cheating doesn't give you "equal" opportunity; it gives you an extra opportunity that the people who don't cheat don't have. Whether that is actually "fair" is, as I said above, highly subjective, and it's very easy to judge wrongly if you have a strong personal stake in the outcome. That's why we have ethical norms that don't allow people to make such judgments unilaterally in cases where self-serving judgments are highly likely and have large consequences.
Since I asked for a principle that distinguishes when it's OK to "cheat" and when it isn't, I should offer one of my own--actually two, following on from the above comments. I see at least two key differences between, for example, the case of exceeding speed limits, and the case of cheating on exams:
(1) I can make a good case that I, driving my car on a particular road under particular conditions, can better judge what a safe speed is in that situation than lawmakers or regulators who just have very general rules for setting speed limits: I am there and they are not, and I'm the one who risks injury if I have an accident. So I have more information and am motivated to make good judgments. The case of students cheating on exams is opposite in these respects: the students do not have more information than the professor does, and they are highly motivated to make self-serving judgments about whether the exam is "fair", rather than accurate ones.
(2) I gain no significant advantage over other drivers from speeding. I get where I'm going faster than I otherwise would, but that does not hinder any other driver from getting where they're going. There's no competitive element involved. In the case of students cheating on exams, there certainly is a competitive element; a student who cheats does not just gain an advantage, he takes away an advantage from others.
So I would distinguish "cheating" that should be prohibited from infractions like speeding, by these two principles: the motivation for self-serving judgments, and the competitive element where one person gaining an advantage means others lose it.
> The Golden Rule doesn't only demand that you treat others that way; it also demands that others treat you that way, which may require action on your part.
I'm not sure the Golden Rule includes this, but that's an argument about terminology, not ethics. Basically, you're saying that you have to let other people know how you want to be treated. I agree with that general principle, but I'm not sure cheating accomplishes that purpose. Are the students who cheated at Harvard being treated more like they wanted to be treated because they cheated?
Had they gotten away with it, maybe! It depends on what the circumstances actually were. Like you say, they may have just been lazy. My point is that cheating, rule-breaking and lawbreaking can be okay under the right circumstances. If it's to unfairly gain an advantage over others, that violates the Golden Rule. In this case the students may have been justified, if indeed the exam was completely unrelated to the lectures.
> how do you know all the other people who are affected by your action would agree?
It doesn't matter what they think; they may well disagree with you. It was illegal for Rosa Parks to sit in the front of the bus, but her interpretation of fairness trumped the law. No doubt plenty of people felt that killing her would be a fair punishment; after all, her crime had large consequences, namely it fomented a rebellion, encouraging millions of others to break (Jim Crow) laws. Had the rebellion failed, history may have recorded that she was a horrible person, instead of her bus being in a museum.
> That's why we have ethical norms that don't allow people to make such judgments unilaterally in cases where self-serving judgments are highly likely and have large consequences.
So when there's a draft, people should trust their leaders and submit to combat, not bothering to examine whether the war is just? Many of those ethical norms are designed to benefit the privileged few at the expense of the rest. The "large consequences" are often a lie. The norms should be used only as a guideline for your own judgement, lest you become someone's pawn.
Avoiding the draft is a good test case that we haven't considered yet. It certainly meets my second condition, that people have a strong motivation to make self-serving judgments instead of correct ones. It also may meet my first condition: citizens who judge that a war is unjust probably can't claim to have significant information that their political leaders do not. (In fact, the political leaders probably have information that the citizens do not.)
However, I can see a third principle that this example brings out: does the other party in the case, the one which is being "cheated" (the government in the case of the draft, the professor in the case of the exam), also have a strong motivation to make self-serving judgments? Certainly that is the case for a draft: political leaders have all kinds of motivations to claim that a draft is justified when it isn't. So in this case I would agree with you that "cheating" might be justifiable.
I'm not sure the case of cheating on exams meets this third condition, although it could be argued that professors do have motivations, if not to purposely make exams unfair, at least to not expend a lot of effort making them fair. But professors also have motivations to keep students coming to their school, for financial if no other reasons, which gives them an incentive to expend effort to make classes and exams fair.
> The norms should be used only as a guideline for your own judgement, lest you become someone's pawn.
I don't disagree with this, but "your own judgment" is not infallible either. That's why I have been trying to find some principles that can help guide one's judgment. You appear to agree with this general idea, since you too draw a distinction between justified "cheating" and unjustified cheating. Your definition of "unjustified" is "if it's to unfairly gain an advantage over others", but that merely postpones the problem: what counts as "unfairly" gaining an advantage? That's what I've been trying to get a handle on.
In this case Harvard may go overboard on a crackdown, to shore up their reputation that's worth a lot of money to them. In that case the students may need to counter with a lawsuit, to restore fairness.
> what counts as "unfairly" gaining an advantage?
Ultimately it's best for you to decide, as fallible as your judgement may be. Anyone else may have their interests at heart, over yours. Their pet interests may be enshrined in the rules, the law, and/or the public psyche.
Wow. In that situation I would certainly agree that the professor was being egregiously unfair. I'm glad that complaining at least got him demoted, but the school should also have corrected the grades of everyone who was affected--I'm guessing they didn't since you didn't mention it.
This culture, however, does not optimize for original thought.
Regarding the exam structure: (humanities + short answer questions + take-home) = increased likelihood of similar answers, given internet search.
The professor here was lazy, too--these problems could have been avoided with a comprehensive 20-page paper instead of a more-easily-graded short-answer final exam.
Multiple choice-style questions (or any memorization-style question) do test knowledge, but I regularly found that many of the students who could easily memorize facts had a hard time explaining them in a coherent essay describing how the events were interconnected. And students who might get a C on memorization tests often had a better grasp of the period as a whole.
Unfortunately, most teachers don't want to take the time to read essay responses because shoving scantron tests through a machine is much easier and less time consuming.
The school found out because they changed a question and it looked suspicious when a quarter of the freshman class gave an answer about Crime and Punishment to a question about the Inferno.
What? They have final TAKE HOME exams at Harvard?
Rather than having questions which can be easily answered with access to research materials, the exam is designed to be difficult even if you have the textbook open on the desk right next to the exam. Take-home exams often specifically grant permission to use the textbook and any other class materials.
Because a take-home exam is built on the premise that the student will have access to all of their materials, the professor writes the exam expecting that you have attended all the classes, read all the textbook chapters, and understood all the notes, so the exam is much more difficult!
It's also meant to make exams more like real work. Nobody at my company gives a damn if I need to crack open a math textbook to find an algorithm, or Google something - but a real job requires that you can understand and synthesize the information you find. You can't build an entire (...good) product out of copy-and-pasted answers from Stack Overflow but you can look up specific issues or points where you get stuck.
Remember that we're seeing this story because the students failed to get away with cheating - in part precisely because of the nature of the exam. One of the questions is an open-ended invitation to pick two events and explain them, and it's very suspicious if a group of students all pick exactly the same two events and present similar-sounding explanations.
As opposed to?
Seriously the exams should test your knowledge and application of elements from the whole range of the course material. Giving that as a reason why you can take the exam home and [have someone else] do it sounds entirely absurd to me.
"Tyler [Cowen] once walked into class the day of the final exam and said, “Here is the exam. Write your own questions. Write your own answers. Harder questions and better answers get more points.” Then he walked out. The funniest thing was when a student came in late and I had to explain to him what the exam was and he didn’t believe me!"
I don't, but I went to Caltech so am used to the idea of take home exams. At Caltech, essentially all exams, including finals, are take home. If a professor wants to give an in-class exam, he has to get special permission to do so.
I think MIT now also has take home exams, but I'm not sure. Any MIT people here who can clarify?
I had at I think one take-home exam at MIT during my time there (1991-1995) and we were explicitly allowed (and encouraged) to collaborate, so long as we gave credit to the person we collaborated with. During one of the other HN Harvard-cheating-scandal threads, another poster mentioned that a take-home exam s/he had at MIT specifically forbid collaboration.
Do people find that surprising?
Was collaboration permitted/encouraged on all assessment? In a lot of the group work at my school there tended to be some people who contributed nothing but complaints about their hangover - but who got good grades on the back of the group. I would have thought more group work would exacerbate this problem; do you think that was the case?
It's a report from their Faculty Policy Committee's Subcommittee on Examination Terms and Regulations, undertaking in 1998. Among the things the report covers is consideration of lifting the ban on take home tests. From the documents they reference, it appears that MIT tried in experiment starting in 1992 to allow take home tests, and discontinued the experiment in 1994.
In that report, they recommend allowing out-of-room exams, where the exam would be given out at 1:30 PM, the students would have until 7:30 pm to turn it in, and the students can take the test where they want. It looks like the main point of this was to make it so students could have access to computers and libraries during these tests.
Their concern with allowing take-home tests seems to be that professors might give monstrous take-home tests that would consume too much time.
Upon further Googling, it sounds like this policy or something similar was adopted and is still in place today: http://web.mit.edu/catalog/overv.chap5.html
Wow, I wonder why it is confidential. Isn't it a right to know what you're being accused of?
edit: I see, that's fair, as long as the accused get to see.
On procedures: http://www.adboard.fas.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k62415...
On confidentiality: http://www.adboard.fas.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k62415...
Academic dishonesty is a no win situation. It makes the students look bad - and then it makes the school look bad for having low quality students. maybe ethics needs to be a required first quarter class.
Turnitin has several major weaknesses. First, it cannot detect whether or not you've properly cited sources.
Secondly, if you've published your own writing anywhere and use it in your paper, it will detect it as plagiarism, though it's not.
Third, it is very limited to what it can detect.
Fourth, major parts library depends on the violation of student copyrights. It keeps a copy of every paper submitted for comparison with future submissions. This is a violation of student copyrights. Now, I'm against these kind of copyright restrictions, but since students are many times on the losing side of copyright battles, this is one which should be an easy win.
Cheating detection is far from a solved problem. Plagiarism is just one part of it, and turn it in only covers the basics. Students using an essay mill will not be detected by the site.
The best way to fight cheating is an engaged instructure. Of course, with the movement in education towards automated courses, there is no way that's going to happen.
Change the way the program works here or there and rename all the variables, and always use the same variables for your loops (x,y,z or i,k,l for example) between assignments and it'd be hard to detect.
Of course, if you went through the effort of doing all that, I always figured it'd be faster just to do it your self.
Any ex-TA's or professors want to weigh on this?
Then it isn't really the same program if the changes are fundamentally different, so in essence, it isn't direct copying anymore. But changing another person's program in non-superficial ways is often as difficult as just solving the problem from scratch.
Cheating is also harder to detect in introductory classes because there are often few good ways to implement the algorithm in the first place (say, factorial, or pre-order traversal of a binary tree). Consequently, these tools tend to work better in larger projects, such as in an operating systems class.
> rename all the variables, and always use the same variables for your loops (x,y,z or i,k,l for example) between assignments and it'd be hard to detect.
It turns out this is trivial to detect; see MOSS  for an example of the type of analysis that is done on programs.
However, more often than not, cheating is detected by teaching assistants simply by hand ("Hmm, this submission looks familiar"), but instructors pretend that there is some sophisticated cheat-finding system to scare off students. Usually typos are dead give-aways, especially when two students have the same typo in the same comment at the same identical spot. In my academic misconduct cases, students were most often identified through spelling and grammar errors.
I imagine that there exist many more instances of cheating than instructors catch, and that we really only get the low-hanging fruit (and frankly, my job isn't to be the cheating police, so I don't go out of my way to find it). But catching the most obvious cases and having a severe punishment as a deterrence is often enough. ("If you cheat, you likely won't get caught, but if you do, goodbye -- it's automatic failure at minimum, and possibly suspension or expulsion.")
 http://theory.stanford.edu/~aiken/moss/ and the actual research paper http://theory.stanford.edu/~aiken/publications/papers/sigmod...
The variable thing makes sense though. I would use the 'changing the program' tactic to stop computers and the variables to stop teachers from detecting it. However, from another poster, using the same variables between assignments maybe unnecessary.
From my experience (as a student), the people that copy programs don't even work that hard to obfuscate their plagiarism. Usually they just rename a couple of variables and reformat things a bit. A former professor of mine wrote a program to "fuzzily" compare two source codes and show how close they are, which quite nicely showed of clusters of programs where a bunch of students had copied-and-slightly-modified from one student.
(1) i.e., give the instructor a feeling of "Hm, I've seen that before...".
Also keep in mind that if you're grading 50 people like I was, you won't remember what variables the students used between assignments. The stuff they would do to throw me off the trail wouldn't help much at all.
If I found a student had copied from a neighbor or whatever, I'd ask them both what had happened. It was uncommon that they would deny it. I'd tell the professor and mark the assignment a zero. After that, it was between the students and the professor.
Try it yourself, write a small program, perhaps a script to read a CSV of numbers and do a pivot table or something, then copy it and use whatever technique you like to hide the copying. Now read them back to back. Give no more than 1 minute to each (since they both compile and pass tests). You'll spot the copying immediately.
Disclaimer: I did TA work for undergraduate stuff; typically for students in liberal arts and sciences just trying to get through their comp-sci requirements.
As long as it covered all the ethical lapses the school itself profited from, it wouldn't be a double standard.