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    Letters | Harvard students accused of cheating

    Regarding act of taking an exam, Harvard students seemed unclear on concept

    Harvard University is investigating 125 students accused of collaborating on a spring take-home final exam. Above, Widener Library is pictured.
    Elise Amendola/Associated Press/File 2009
    Harvard University is investigating 125 students accused of collaborating on a spring take-home final exam. Above, Widener Library is pictured.

    Regarding “Harvard students bridle over test cheating investigation” (Sept. 1) by Mary Carmichael: I was in last spring’s “Introduction to Congress” course as a Harvard Extension School degree candidate. We had the same lectures and readings as Harvard College students, as well as four exams weighted the same way, with the same prohibition against collaboration.

    I do not recall the professor, Matthew Platt, encouraging us to collaborate on the other three exams, and I wonder why he would have done so in contravention of his own written instructions. I also wonder when being allowed to collaborate on any exam became accepted practice, requiring an explicit exception to be spelled out in the instructions. And I wonder how our best and brightest were reduced to a state of bewilderment over the presence of an “etc.” in those instructions — “etc.,” as in: You are expected to understand what “students may not discuss the exam with others” means.

    I wonder how it became the professor’s fault that students elected to skip lectures or send others to pick up lecture slides. The complaint seems to be that there was no way they could have known their strategies would turn out to be problematic, since they weren’t being chastised for engaging in them — they weren’t being parented enough by the professor, in other words.

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    Platt did indeed acknowledge that his was considered among the easiest classes at Harvard. But he added that he was going to make a concerted effort to make it more challenging. Might that warning have gone unheard or unheeded by many of these students?

    Miriam Cooper

    Cambridge