Harvard Cheating Scandal: Is Academic Dishonesty on the Rise?

Harvard University’s announcement last week of an investigation into a case of widespread cheating offered a little thrill of schadenfreude for some: confirmation, perhaps, that a venerable 376-year-old institution — whose motto, “Veritas,” means truth in Latin — could be caught up in the same pedestrian crimes and misdemeanors found at less lofty altitudes. According to reports in the Harvard Crimson, more than 100 students in an undergraduate lecture class are alleged to have lifted material from shared study guides on a final take-home exam. (MORE: Campus Scandals and College Admissions: What Applicants Should Know) Moral indignation is an understandable response, and can have a role in all sorts of problems. But focusing on individual character flaws or moral failings obscures both the magnitude and the complexity of the problem of our national crisis of academic dishonesty. Cheating cuts to the very heart of academia, more so than it does other institutions that have faced similar wrongdoing, such as professional sports and the financial industry, because the search for truth is the primary mission of a university. Harvard’s public statement promised appropriate discipline for the wrongdoers and noted that the “vast majority” of its students do their own work. Such circumstances — which are dismayingly common on college and high school campuses nationwide — often prompt institutions to reassert community values in this way. But a broader kind of soul searching is required. Students have cheated for as long as there have been schools, but by any measure, academic dishonesty is on the rise. While detection methods and increased vigilance explain some of this increase, most experts believe the incidence of the forms of cheating has increased (PDF) too. For one thing, the technological ease of mashup culture can make it hard for students to recognize — or care — that they are appropriating the work of others. In fact, according to reporting in the New York Times, some of the Harvard students involved seemed to think that they didn’t really cheat, that there were special circumstances in the class, that the professor changed … Continue reading Harvard Cheating Scandal: Is Academic Dishonesty on the Rise?