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The Fall of Academics at Harvard (thecrimson.com)
78 points by protomyth on Mar 2, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 51 comments



I am a Princeton graduate ('12) that is currently a graduate student at Harvard.

I have a few thoughts on this, but first I wanted to share an experience I had during a mandatory course I am in on "TA'ing at Harvard". The professor of one of the largest undergrad classes discussed with us how it is very, very clear that the students' #1 priorities at Harvard are _not_ academics, but rather their extracurriculars. Despite this, they will still curve the class up so that a very large percentage of students get A's (I don't have a number here, but I was told that in his class, the median grade on an exam is curved to a B+, and that is very harsh by Harvard's standards). At the very least, I think that this small tidbit falls inline with "The Fall of Academics at Harvard".

Personally, I think one thing that has to change is this perception that many overachieving highschoolers bring with them as they become undergradautes at these universities: that is, that college is a stepping stone to a prestigious, well-paying job. Furthermore, these historically high-achieving students aren't going easily let go of their stellar grade track record. Together, I think it's then easy to miss part of the point of the undergraduate experience all together, and there's an incentive to cheat.

Lastly, I wanted to include that I think this is also largely a cultural issue. I agree with others in this thread that there is this mentality of just feeding into these "prestigious" jobs (Finance, Consulting, etc.), and I think that greatly contributes towards the degradation of the school's ability to foster an academic environment.


Disclosure: I graduated from Princeton in 2007

This article (which I skimmed) seems to use Princeton as a counterpoint to Harvard's supposed cheating culture and lax attitude towards academics. I have no idea whether students actually treat academics with more respect than their Crimson counterparts "on average".

However, I can definitely say that the kind of collaboration/copying/cheating that is described for Harvard's Econ10 course happens throughout Princeton. Whomever is being quoted from Princeton, casting it as this supposed utopia of higher learning, is either bubbling PR nonsense or is just completely out of touch with what goes on in the field.


I am a current student at Dartmouth, and it's the same here as well. Especially in a class with a curve, a student is at a serious disadvantage if he/she doesn't collaborate, copy, or cheat.


Setting a strict curve is probably the laziest way to grade a class. It doesn't tell you anything about how well you did (do you get the material? Can you solve problems on your own? Or are you the 27th "best" person in the class?) Of course, with a curve, a professor doesn't have to actually think over what a passing grade is. Which causes all kinds of negative incentive (such as cheating, or almost worse, anti-collaboration). I'll take a class where 10% of the class get an A because the standards are exceptionally high over a class where a strict 40% will get an A, as one implies I'll get a lot out of it, and the other implies I'll stress needlessly over unimportant trivia.


Sad to hear as an alum. It wasn't that way a decade ago.


Cornell wasn't really any better. I commonly came across cheating rings, especially among international students.


I went to Cornell, and I never witnessed any sort of collaboration of this sort.

I did have a professor tell us an anecdote of discovering such "collaboration" in his classes and tell us he wouldn't stand for it (and yes, they were Chinese), but that's the only encounter I had.


Yep, I was Harvard '07, and I've TA'ed at Princeton as a grad student. It was pretty obvious in both places that students were collaborating pretty often; for the classes I taught, in general (though not always) students were cautious enough to hover just below the obvious threshold of phrase-for-phrase copying, so I only challenged students on it infrequently.


Of course this is the Harvard Crimson writing about Harvard, but the words in the article could be applicable to damn near any institution, at least in the U.S.

> The institution and the community condones, if not promotes, academic dishonesty, emphasizing prestige over intellectual growth. Academics are no longer the priority of the students or teachers at Harvard College.

~~~~~

> This prevalence of academic dishonesty is symptomatic of a pervading mentality on campus that neglects the classroom.

> Nicolaus Mills ’60, a literature professor at Sarah Lawrence College, points to a weak emphasis on undergraduate teaching as an underlying factor that enabled the scandal to take place on Harvard’s campus.

> ... As professors invest less time in the classroom—a product of pressures to establish themselves primarily as researchers—so too do teaching fellows and students.

The above attitude unfortunately has been (and will continue to be) copied by any institution hoping to place itself among prestigious names. My alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) made a huge shift in recent years (2006-) towards firing much of the "clinical faculty", which was the name reserved for faculty who did not engage in research, and instead merely taught.

Unfortunately for students, faculty who do engage in research often consider the teaching component of their careers as an afterthought (or worse, an annoyance).

~~~~~

The single most important thing I learned when I was a child tutor is this: Without enthusiasm you've got nothing - zero - to work with in a student. And if they don't have it coming in you've got a non-trivial problem. You can't teach enthusiasm, it's imparted only one way.

Enthusiasm is contagious. It's part of the draw of being in a school in the first place, around so many other bright people who are willing to be there and spend the time learning. Then you get to this:

> “The modal Harvard student takes their courses as seriously as they think the instructor is taking the course,”

And it's painfully understandable that the experience will be damning for the average student, regardless of institution.


Some random anecdotes:

I went to Pomona College, which was a very different place than the one described in the Crimson article. While I'm sure cheating did take place, I was never witness to it, nor was there any cultural expectation that it occurred. Students tended to view cheating as just screwing yourself over in the long run (paying that much money to avoid get an education is a waste of time).

Harvey Mudd College, which was right next door, had an even more aggressive stance on cheating and honorable behavior -- one which was woven into the way pretty much everything was structured over there. Students were endowed with a huge helping of trust and were expected to act responsibly (and the actual student culture seemed to actually reflect this).

Both institutions provide excellent educations. However, PC and HMC are both small and neither of them have graduate students or research faculty. The faculty that are there are very accomplished in their fields, but their focus is on teaching.

I've also been the equivalent of an RA at MIT, where things are obviously a bit different. I don't think they're as bad as at Harvard, but it's clear that for many faculty the priority is not on teaching. Combined with the large size (~200 students) of many intro classes and this can create an environment where students do not feel that their success or failure is either cared about or monitored, which I'm sure makes it easier to cheat. However, MIT's technical focus may help to alleviate this problem since all of your later classes will depend on the stuff you're supposed to be learning now, so you'll be screwed later on even if you cheat. Sadly, I don't have a ton of data here -- all I can say is that out of the population of 40 on my hall there wasn't a culture of cheating. Getting bad grades was a shocking right of passage for many first-years.

Finally, my mother taught at a large research institution for many years. There cheating in the form of copying papers was rampant and the university seemed loathe to actually punish students caught in the act. My mother eventually gave up trying. These problems were worst in the large intro classes -- once things got down to smaller (<30 students) seminars and classes, cheating became both extremely easy to identify and rare.


Certainly for many of MIT's professors teaching is not a priority, but you can't get tenure if you're not an adequate teacher. I also witnessed no cheating when I attended; as you note, it's self-correcting behavior for typical MIT majors.

Harvard's something of a special case in that they're notorious for not promoting from within; that is, Harvard tries to hire the very best in the world they can recruit to be full professors, and assistant, associate, whatever their lower levels are hired with the understanding Harvard's not going to grant them tenure. (I'm sure there are exceptions to this generalization, but that what I've been told is the pattern, at least in their Arts and Sciences unit).

I wouldn't expect stellar teaching to be common in such an environment, and my Harvard friends seldom if ever raved about the quality of teaching.


Do you really think nobody was cheating at Pomona & Harvey Mudd? Perhaps those schools follow educational philosophies that deemphasize relative performance like Brown's gradeless system or emphasizing "cooperation" over individual ability. If your performance did not matter then perhaps there would be no incentive to cheat (or study). However these students are still humans and humans are lazy, greedy and proud - thus prone to cheating.

Maybe because they are small and there is no incentive to publicize episodes of cheating and damage their brand no stories have come out yet. Still a quick search finds several articles indicating concerns at these schools. And sister school Claremont McKenna has had several major scandals in recent years.

I wish there were angels who we could trust to always be honest (imagine how well government would run!) but we only have humans. Many are honest much if not all of the time but how can we ever know who or when with any certainty. Sadly this is a curse we cannot escape. These and the other human weaknesses are ultimately responsible for so many of our persistent problems.

http://blogs.pomona.edu/eng87-2012f/2012/11/12/what-does-pom...

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/06/23/essays

http://www.claremontportside.com/print-edition/april-2011-is...


I graduated from HMC last year.

>Do you really think nobody was cheating at Pomona & Harvey Mudd? Perhaps those schools follow educational philosophies that deemphasize relative performance like Brown's gradeless system or emphasizing "cooperation" over individual ability. If your performance did not matter then perhaps there would be no incentive to cheat (or study). However these students are still humans and humans are lazy, greedy and proud - thus prone to cheating.

I can't speak for Pomona, but many HMC classes have timed, closed book take home exams. It would be trivially easy to cheat on these. On homework, collaboration was usually encouraged, with the caveat that problems sets should ultimately be written up individually -- what policy to take was the choice of the professor.

We certainly had grades.

>Maybe because they are small and there is no incentive to publicize episodes of cheating and damage their brand no stories have come out yet. Still a quick search finds several articles indicating concerns at these schools. And sister school Claremont McKenna has had several major scandals in recent years.

I'm appending data collected in a survey last year. The data was shared with students, but not AFAIK published outside. My personal perception is that cheating is uncommon, and I did not know of anybody I knew doing so. I believe very few people I knew would be open to cheating if approached by a friend. I agree that the administration has no incentive to publicize issues, but I do honestly believe that the issues were few.

With all due respect to Claremont McKenna, their culture is very different. I would not extrapolate from them.

...

There was a survey of student and faculty perceptions of cheating on campus. Unfortunately I don't have details of how this was conducted. Presumably it was anonymous.

In response to : "I believe nearly all HMC Students respect the Honor Code"

Students: Agree: 84% Neutral: 8% Disagree: 8%

Faculty: Agree: 88% Neutral: 5% Disagree: 7%

"Most HMC Students adhere to the Honor Code in their academic work.":

Students: Agree: 92% Neutral: 4% Disagree: 4%

Faculty: Agree: 90% Neutral: 10% Disagree: 0%

"Most HMC Students adhere to the Honor Code in matters unrelated to their academic work.":

Students: Agree: 66% Neutral: 22% Disagree: 12%

Faculty: Agree: 53% Neutral: 33% Disagree: 14%

(For this question, I do not know the number of respondents): Faculty: In the past 3 years, have any of the following Honor Code violations occurred in the classes you teach:

Plagiarism: 18 Cheating: 10 Collaboration: 10 Other: 3

Faculty: On average, how frequently have Honor Code violations come to your attention?":

1/yr: 77% 2-3/yr: 23%

Faculty: Do you currently give take home exams in any of your Core classes"? [Core classes are required for all students].

Yes: 32% No: 42% N/A: 26%

Faculty: Do you currently give take home exams in any of your non-Core classes"?

Yes: 86% No: 14%

Students: "Have you ever violated the honor code?"

No: 80% 1x: 15% 2x: 1% >2x: 4%

Students: "Did you self report?

Yes: 17% No: 83%


Part of this may be that collaboration is encouraged on almost all problem sets, and problems sets are designed with that in mind. Often, there's not much to actually "cheat" on, and this leads to a healthier attitude of learning together.


I wanted to say something almost identical. I am also at Pomona, and the culture here is nothing like that described in the Crimson article.


The firing of clinical faculty began at least before 2004.


I thought that the quality of writing in the article was very poor. As a side note, I also found it funny that many are worried that the "prestige" of Harvard is besmirched, because the original meaning (now obsolete) of prestige was

  An illusion; a conjuring trick; a deception, an imposture.
EDIT: Even the title of the article is unintentionally funny. Because academics may also be the plural of academic (better described as an academician), the title may be taken literally.

>As professors focus on their research, and students worry about securing career opportunities, both sides become increasingly disinterested in the classroom.

This sentence is atrocious, not only because of the use of "disinterested" for "uninterested" (Bryan Garner classifies this usage as Stage 4 on the language change index, meaning that it is ubiquitous but still not quite accepted [1]), but because the meaning is ambiguous. Are the views of the students about the idea of classroom learning changing, or do the students feel apathetic inside the classrooms of professors who ignore cheating?

Another poorly written sentence:

>The roughly 30-member committee was established in the fall of 2010 and includes about eight student members.

This sentence would be fine in informal speech. In formal writing, especially in a respected newspaper such as the Crimson, it is unacceptable.

Somewhere, John Simon is muttering under his breath.[2]

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Garners-Modern-American-Usage-Garner/d... [2] http://www.amazon.com/Paradigms-Lost-Reflections-John-Simon/...


"As a side note, I also found it funny that many are worried that the "prestige" of Harvard is besmirched, because the original meaning (now obsolete) of prestige was An illusion; a conjuring trick; a deception, an imposture."

Great point...

Of course prestige is the primary product for sale at such a place of business.


Ironically (note: probably wrong diction), the worse the article is, the better it proves its point, as it is a student publication.


Homework is how one prepares for tests. Long form take home assignments should be designed with collaboration in mind.

Students explaining their understanding of a topic to each other is one of the most powerful ways for them to learn. I am fond of the saying that one doesn't truly understand a topic until one has explained it to another.

In class tests should be long, brutal, and test student's ability to come to their own conclusions based on concepts that were covered throughout the class.


I fully agree, and I had professors at my school that also believed in this. Educational institutions need to modernize their teaching methods to ensure that students are actually committed to their education and have disincentive to cheat.

The fact is that we live in a world where people almost always work in a connected fashion and you have to expect that the students are going to work together and the course should be designed around this. Team based learning is a fantastic tool for teaching, and by designing assessments properly you can make it practically impossible for cheating to occur, both due to open ended nature of the problems and because your fellow students that you are working with keep you from being dishonest.

I had one course where you worked in a group of about 6, and the assignments were all design problems where you needed to optimize your solutions, which always meant working closely with your teammates to make everything work together. You learn so much more when you have to explain and understand what everyone's MATLAB code does. It was in your best interest to make sure you knew everything inside and out because there was going to be something like that problem on the exam and they were so long that you had to know exactly what you were doing or else you weren't going to finish (but were always short enough to finish). I can without a doubt say this was one of the best courses I took during school, and the course I remember the most about 2.5 years later.


It's no different at Carnegie Mellon. I spoke to a former SCS dean who revealed that cheating rates in CS courses are as high as 70%, yet most professors turn a blind eye (which as the Crimson article points out, may be attributed to apathy or inability to enforce class policy at a large scale).

The fact that academic dishonesty is so prevalent these days makes me inclined to believe that cheating is symptomatic of the state of higher education (and maybe the way pedagogy is approached in the modern classroom), especially in light of rising tuition and unemployment rates. When a majority of students across institutions resort to compromising their integrity and learning for a letter grade, at which point do we start reassessing education at large?


I disagree thoroughly. I've been to both Harvard and CMU, and assisted classes at the latter. CMU SCS undergrads work much harder than Harvard undergrads, and their work is more honest.

Actually, CMU students are perhaps a bit too isolated. This leads to some academic stratification, because the smart kids hang out with one another. There is less support and camaraderie. Lots of promising students struggle at SCS and drop out. The attrition rate, not cheating, is actually the primary academic concern.

Harvard is at the other extreme. The stratification isn't academic, it's social (via finals clubs and such.) Everyone collaborates. There are two common practices I find especially distasteful. Harvard has a very long, class-free study period right before exams. Also, Harvard provides students with Adderall at no cost with essentially no questions asked. A lot of students blow off the assignments then cram with loads of amphetamines. They're smart, so they succeed, but they don't really learn anything.


"Harvard provides students with Adderall at no cost with essentially no questions asked."

Can you elaborate on what this means? Can you pretty much just roll into the nurse's office and get some amphetamines?


CMU undergrad and 15-122 (intro to CS) TA here.

As far as I can tell, there's a lot of awareness against cheating here. Most, if not all, of my professors have gone out of their way to stress how cheating is a terrible thing, devalues the degree, etc.

As a TA, I've seen some cheating on homework, but not nearly as much as described in the article. Our professor certainly does NOT turn a blind eye to it, assuming it's caught via software or we're able to catch it on the written part.

One of the worst parts of CMU is this weird aversion to seeking help. We try our best to hold a lot of office hours, especially in the lower level courses, but a fair number of students don't take advantage of them, or of the other helpful opportunities (e.g. one-on-one tutoring), because they fear some stigma against them. The worst part of CMU academic culture is that attitude: that it's not okay to seek help if you're struggling.

Shivak (another responder to your post) put it pretty well: academic stratification is what happens here, as well as some social stratification. If you're part of that group of people who fits well at the Gates 3K cluster, then you can get basically all the help you need from the myriad of upper level TAs who hang out there (hay geohot how do i kernel???). Also, CMU can be pretty fucked up socially in general, but that's for another post.


Academia is broken as a mechanism for education and learning. And MOOCs, despite their advantages, really can't reclaim what has been lost.

Nowadays many--most, I'd suspect--universities aren't really distinguishing themselves as the places for the building of men and women into better people and citizens of the world. Instead, they serve at the lower end as a credentialing mechanism to corporate society that someone has acceptable impulse control and willingness to embrace the system, and at the higher end as a finishing school for the finance and government elite.

Certainly at both ends some people interested in intellectually appreciating the natural and social worlds come out, but that's despite, not because of, its actual current social function. I remember the second lecture in my quantum class the professor literally reading straight out, word-for-word, from the Griffiths textbook and ran out of the classroom as soon as it was scheduled to be over. Which is an extreme example, but certainly the majority of my major classes got their value from the problem sets and textbook they forced us to work through and the people I worked with on them, not through the value-add the professor or university provides.

Why shouldn't people cheat? Our society is fine with it outside the academy (maybe not explicitly, but you can tell by how it values and punishes who do cheat). If universities exist to serve it commercially, might as well inculcate its values while it's at it.


"And MOOCs, despite their advantages, really can't reclaim what has been lost."

The contrary, in fact - MOOCs take this kind of situation (inaccessible, out-of-touch professors; overworked, underqualified TAs) and generalize it.


"Why shouldn't people cheat?"

I think cheating should go the same path has the hacking/cracking argument. There are good and bad ways of cheating both in school as well as in real life.

In my opinion someone who develops a sophisticated cheating system that allows to pass a typical brain-dump test has learned more than someone who plays by the rules.

I always believe that the one hacking the system should be rewarded at least by the same amount than the one just following instructions.


Regular 'ol state school grad here:

I observed that cheating, especially in the first year or two was pretty common among certain groups of students. But it was treated especially harshly. Most of the students who were caught cheating were given a scare and a second chance, but by and large the systemic cheaters were kicked out or changed to an easier major by the 3rd year.

By the 4th year, the average class size was around 10% of the average 1st year.

My school was so strongly into fighting cheating, that they invested heavily into licensing cheat detection software when it was available and spending quite a bit of money researching and selling/licensing anti-cheat tools to other schools.

It turns out to be an interesting CS problem that cut across most majors and definitely made an impact on killing off endemic cheating in the school.

Academics were taken very seriously at my school.


Is it possible to craft a course that assumed that students would collaborate/copy from each other and the internet while completing any take home assignment (so homework and projects but not in-class tests), allow for it explicitly, and still teach as much as the existing courses would have if students didn't collaborate/copy?


Yes, absolutely possible - it's just a lot more work. As simonsarris points out above, this will be the exception rather than the rule in a system where universities and faculty are not measured/rewarded for quality of teaching.


Teach? Easy. Grade? No. And that's what the problem: too much focus on grades, which are nearly meaningless.


I'm astonished that commenters are generalizing the issues in this article to U.S. in general. I never encountered anything remotely at this scale when I attended the College of William & Mary ('00). I'd guess that the culture of cheating written about in this article is simply a byproduct of amassing the kind of people who can get into Harvard in the first place: straight A, hyper competitive achievers.


Or maybe colleges are diverse and you had a well behaved group of friends.


Plus ça change. Communal work on weekly/monthly assignments was basically ubiquitous when I went to university mumblemumble years ago. (OK, fine; electrical engineering at the University of Waterloo, graduated 1996.)

It didn't really _feel_ like cheating to anyone, including me, who rarely-if-ever participated, fwiw. (Not due to any moral high ground, but because a) I was not particularly social at the time b) "100% of your grade is based on your final exam score" was usually an option, and (relative to other students) my exams were far better than my assignments.)

Was it? Mmm. Probably yes, in the end, but it seems to me that you could make a reasonable prescriptive/descriptive case that it wasn't.

Was it evidence of a serious moral flaw pervasive throughout that generation, or excessive pressure to excel (Waterloo is basically Canada's MIT), or anything like? Hell no. It was just a grotesque but essentially harmless cultural artifact. With twenty years of hindsight, I'd advise against reading too much into it.


As a Harvard '04-'05 grad (two numbers meaning I left early) I think The Crimson, as per usual, misses the mark.

It is indeed partly the part of the faculty for not engaging with students (e.g. teaching) enough. But even if some of the faculty had engaged more with us as students when I was there, I might have run for my life even faster than I already did, because some of the faculty just weren't that great. In fact, some were awful. (I've written a not-very-popular book in which this is a major theme.)

Harry Lewis's attempt to protect the students from blame here is admirable, but similarly mistaken. Harvard's admissions office (which used to be run by his wife, I'm not sure if it still is) selects for the best and the brightest, but inevitable in such a selection process is a tendency to pick what William Deresiewicz calls "excellent sheep"--kids who do (or appear to do) what they're told extremely well. When you pair that with an Office of Career Services (OCS) that acts as a funnel to Wall Street--many people in my class ended up destroying the world at Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs--what do you expect to happen? You've got a huge population of smart kids whose end goal is a place in a culture where success at any cost is not just appropriate, it's encouraged.

A large portion of football team cheated on a midterm in Economics 1010a in 2003 (they took advantage of a scheduling conflict with Statistics 104 to get extra time on the exam), but no one ever got in trouble for it. My guess is that half of the people who knew about it wished that they had been so "smart."

The cheating scandal is major, but in a way, I think it's the least of Harvard's problems. They haven't even touched on the Adderall problem, or the kinds of faculty conflicts of interest highlighted in Inside Job, and they've only slightly addressed the draconian, opaque and backwards nature of the Ad Board. Even knowing about some of the important research that goes on there, in my opinion, Harvard's real problem is that its general role of late has been pretty far from a force for good, let alone truth. It's just been a rubber stamp for the broken society we read about in the headlines daily. Correcting that problem requires actual leadership which, since Larry Summers was President, has been sorely lacking.

P.S. If you think the Valley or even YC is disconnected from this dynamic, don't kid yourself. CS50 enrollment is way up because everyone thinks that they'll be the next billionaire like Mark. But CS50 is not why Bill Gates, Mark, Sheryl Sandberg (Summers's former assistant) or Nathan Blecharczyk sit atop billion-dollar companies (see http://www.aarongreenspan.com/writing/essay.html?id=70). And with Jim Breyer of Accel now elected to the Harvard Corporation... You get the picture. Cheating has its rewards.


Disclaimer: I was a '12 grad, and currently doing a PhD in CS there.

> because some of the faculty just weren't that great

I think this is anecdotal evidence against anecdotal evidence. In my case, a lot of the faculty were that great. A few concrete names that immediately pop to mind would be: Margo Seltzer, Mike Smith, Greg Morrisett, Matt Welsch (now at google), David Malan, Howard Georgi, ...

> admissions office [..] selects [..] "excellent sheep"--kids who do (or appear to do) what they're told extremely well

Au contraire, my anecdotal evidence is that the admissions office tends to lean a lot on the "liberal arts" side. I come from a background with a strong respect of science and academics, and would often get very surprised to see some people not focus on those areas as much. But then I'd see them play their instrument, direct a play, qualify for the Olympics, etc. Most of those people ended up in consulting or teaching (TFA and the like) actually.

But no, I am not going to argue that a lot of people don't end up on Wall Street. And quite frankly, I don't see anything wrong with that. In the tech sector, we are quite fortunate that a large fraction of funding is provided through VCs. But a lot of other sectors don't have that luxury and need to resort to other sources of liquidity, private equity firms and i-banks. In those areas, it is much harder to define an actual measure of product goodness (in CS, we can always say that app X runs Y% faster or that Z% of the large number of users prefer it), and individual performance is evaluated much more based on _soft skills_. This is the exact skill set that is developed by the non-acacdemic parts of college. As tech people, we might feel cheated in some sense by that (the same way we feel cheated by a good salesman who "doesn't contribute anything"), but as long as there are requirements for capital, I don't see any alternative.

edit: grammar


I'll second the recommendation for William Deresiewicz's essays.

Here's his most relevant essay to this topic, which he's currently expanding into a book: http://theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-...


CS50 is way up because David Malan made it less 'nerdy'/ symbolic-computation more fun and applied.


The amazing thing to me are the comments. There is little disagreement on the existence of rampant cheating, and more about how and why.

Quotes from the comments:

"Harry Lewis can also be part of the problem. He is, along with Bob Scalise and Tom Stemberg, one of the three biggest cheerleaders on campus in favor of lowering academic standards to produce a championship basketball team."

"Not only are "less than As" at Harvard occasionally seen as a sign that the student isn't smart or isn't working hard, but actual As aren't recognized or appreciated that much because they've been set as the status quo. This means that no matter what the grade, students here can feel the need to keep pushing themselves and striving for that elusive recognition and appreciation."

"Here's my thought on why cheating is so widespread here: I think that the motivation is simple, and is rooted in the fact that before coming here, we were among the very best at our high school. Then, when we got here, most of us still wanted to be among the best, to still get all A's while being a leader in extracurriculars, and so on. However, courses here are probably much harder than what we dealt with in high school."

It was also strange seeing Mankiw under the bus. Like or dislike his politics, he is a prolific blogger which generally suggests being in touch. http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/

Again from the comments: "Harry Lewis is correct in stating that students cheat more in classes where they themselves feel "cheated" by the professor. It is baffling and inexcusable that Harvard continues to let Mankiw "teach" Ec 10 which affords him a credential he does not deserve. Talk about lying on your resume."


From the article: "The institution and the community condones, if not promotes, academic dishonesty, emphasizing prestige over intellectual growth."

This institution has employed, as professors, various characters including Henry Kissinger and Dave Winer. This assessment is in line with the impression that gives me.


Heh, but Winer's one year as a research fellow at the Law School, which is a distinct part of the Harvard "empire", doesn't quite put him in the same league as a young Henry Kissinger.


And which shows that the supposed 'fall' is nothing new.


I'm really surprised that the people teaching at Harvard don't seem to be putting forth any effort to make assignments that are at least somewhat difficult to cheat on. I'm only a grad student at a Big Ten school but I always try to make my assignments require something that they can't just copy down from someone else even if it is just randomized questions. Obviously this is easier in some disciplines than others but even when I was an undergrad back in the early 90s I took an intro-level Physics course where every student's test was randomly generated from a bank of questions (admittedly it wasn't very good. One test I remember getting the same question 3 times!).


Colgate alum here-- cheating was just as bad when I was in school as it seems to be at Harvard now. All you had to do is look in your fraternity's 'library' and how about that? the test hasn't changed in 15 years?

Edit: I'll add that there was an honor code that all students were required to sign, but it seemed that the gist was 'we'll give you a ton of leeway, but if you are dumb enough to get caught, the consequences will be extremely harsh.' That way both sides win: students can share test questions and answers with little risk of being caught, and the school can seem serious about cheating by occasionally expelling the most egregious violators.


On the point of Harvard professors being more concerned about research than teaching, Sean Carroll has a blog post from a few years ago that is relevant: The Purpose of Harvard is Not to Educate People (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2008/05/29/...).

To quote: "the purpose of Harvard is not to educate students. If anything, its primary purpose is to produce research and scholarly work."


Why do we care about cheating undergrads at Harvard again? I'd care about an article on Harvard undergrads if they were actually doing something I care about! Post about that if you want to.


I mean...you go to Harvard for the connections... You go to like a Washu if you're interested in academics.


The comments on the Crimson site are insane. These are some jaded people.


Cheating is a complex subject to speak of, especially in US. Let me share my experience with some of these cheaters.I would like to point out that I do not admire them nor I take their side, yet I am trying to understand the problem and find some reasoning behind these actions.

Everyone thinks you are stupid or evil if you cheat yet it has a deeper meaning here.We have to ask ourselves, why would someone cheat?Does it matter if it's Harvard or Stanford?No, it doesn't.The reasons are usually the same wherever you go.

The first one I can think of is Lack of Interest.The student simply doesn't give a about a certain course, and he knows he will never use it after graduation so he decides to cheat on the exam.Cheating himself?No, because he doesn't like that course at all and he will not use it in the future, so why wasting his time.No benefits, nothing coming out of this course.

An example would be the GE in the first 2 years of college.I believe it's a waste of time and money. That's why other countries don't use it.

The second one is Lack of Enthusiasm. Maybe the student doesn't like the professor or the way he teaches.Maybe he knows more than the professor.Maybe he needs something extra.Who knows...But surely this can lead to cheating as well, although this would definitely impact your future if the course is connected with your job aspirations.

The third one is No Social Life/Seeking Popularity among certain groups.Some students think that by cheating they can get in some fraternities or joining famous campus groups or getting the "girl next door" etc. A shortcut to something which they cannot obtain through other means.You don't see a movie where cheating is not cool, do you?Look at some of the commercials.Nothing negative about cheating.

Forth would be the so called "corporate mindset".They look at some billionaire stories and unethical companies that make a lot of money through schemes and cheating.I mean look at the Wall Street movies.I don't think there is one movie where characters make money by being ethical.So students think that's cool.Heck, they even drop college thinking they can become a SJ or BG.There is no other way...

I think I'll stop here but there are many more.Should we consider all of them stupid?Well, not really.The truth is the world today is not the same as the one 10-20 years ago.And yes, companies don't play fair.How can you encourage someone to be ethical when most of the top 500 companies are on the other side of the spectrum.

How can you survive as a business if most of the competition is cheating in some way?You cannot.

Let's take an example here:

Student A = Cheating/Unethical Student B = Studying/Ethical

A gets a 4.0 GPA by cheating through college.* B gets a 3.5 by playing it fair.

*Assuming Student A is not retarded or anything and he cheats when he needs to, not to the point where he couldn't bring any value to a company after graduating.

Who will get the job at a top company? Probably A because if a 4.0 is a requirement, the recruiter will completely ignore B.Can you blame the recruiter?Not really.It's impossible to ask 1000 people if they cheated or not and so on. Not fair for the hard-working student.

That's just my 2 cents.Sorry for my bad writing.


The real story: How much better CS50 is than all of the other offerings.




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