Toll Free (877) 721-4732
Phone (617) 206-1942


Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network.
To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 206-1942.

Posted On: February 3, 2013

CAMBRIDGE’S HARVARD UNIVERSITY TAKES ACTION AGAINST STUDENTS IN CHEATING SCANDAL

Last week, Friday brought some disturbing news to the students at Cambridge's Harvard University. If you are a regular reader to this blog, you probably Saw this news as Inevitable. While not technically a college crime, it is close enough.

You may Recognize the allegations in this story from our discussion of it back in August 2012. It was then that Harvard announced that a cheating scandal had taken place at the University.

According to Harvard, the cheating scandal took place in the spring, 2012, class, "Government 1310: Introduction to Congress."

This was not a scandal which involved merely a couple of students. It was a rather widespread problem. Over 100 students type of widespread problem.

Now, the announcement has come from a top university official that more than half of the students investigated by a college board have been ordered to withdraw from the school.
In an e-mail to the Harvard community, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith wrote that more than half of the students who were brought before the university's Administration Board this fall were required to withdraw from school for a period of time.

Of the remaining cases, approximately half the students received disciplinary probation, while the rest of the cases were dismissed.

Smith added that the first set of cases were decided in late September, and the remainder were resolved in December.

He announced that “Consistent with the Faculty’s rules and our obligations to our students, we do not report individual outcomes of Administrative Board cases, but only report aggregate statistics...In that tradition, the College reports that somewhat more than half of the Administrative Board cases this past fall required a student to withdraw from the College for a period of time. Of the remaining cases, roughly half the students received disciplinary probation, while the balance ended in no disciplinary action.''

Wile Smith's email does not explicitly describe this particular cheating scandal, a Harvard official confirmed that the cases in the email solely referred to one course.

One would imagine, if not hope, that they were not too many of these cheating scandals that involved so many students.

The email went on to say that "The time span of the resolutions in this set had an undesirable interaction with our established schedule for tuition refunds. To create a greater amount of financial equity for all students who ultimately withdrew sometime in this period, we are treating, for the purpose of calculating tuition refunds, all these students as having received a requirement to withdraw on September 30, 2012."

In a separate statement, released when the cheating scandal became public, Harvard president Drew Faust said that the allegations, “if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends. . . . There is work to be done to ensure that every student at Harvard understands and embraces the values that are fundamental to its community of scholars.”

This addresses an interesting angle to this story and how Harvard is reacting to the scandal.

As Harvard students returned to the university this fall, professors included explicit instructions about collaboration on the class syllabus. "Collaboration" in this regard is another word for "cheating".

Apparently, particularly when it becomes public news, the definition is somewhat blurry on the Harvard University campus.

On Friday, students reacted to the announcement.

One 19-year-old student, for example, stated that he thinks the college wanted to make a statement with its decision. But when over half of the students in a class cheat, not punishing them is the same as condoning the behavior.

He indicated that he thought the boards disciplinary action was fair because the students "made the choice to cheat.”

Another student, 22 years of age, disagreed. She stated that the punishment for these students was too harsh, and that many students in the class could have been confused about the policy.

There is that theme again.

She went on to state that she does not know what the college is trying to achieve by forcing students to leave. “Sending someone away for a semester or a year, it’s awful,” she said. “It changes someone’s life.”

Yet another student opined that while he thinks students who cheat should be punished, he has mostly been disappointed with the college’s response to the scandal. Professors are now forbidding collaboration among students, which he feels could negatively impact learning at Havard.

“It’s bad,” he said. “Collaboration is so important in academic learning.”

Attorney Sam’s Take On Embarrassment, Overreaction And Dscipline On College Campus

Let's face it. We all know that cheating is wrong. I assume that it will also come as a shock to no one that if a student is caught cheating, they can be severe repercussions. Finally, one can assume that the higher-level academic institution the harsher the punishment.

On the other hand, schools, regardless of the level of prestige, are learning institutions. Most of the students' brains, biologically speaking, are not fully developed. Further, the students out there to learn. If they already knew all that they needed to know, the school would go out of business. Heaven forbid.

While not wanting to seem "Bill Clinton-esque", One would imagine that it is the responsibility of the school to explain what "cheating" actually means. In some instances, the definition would be obvious to a 10-year-old. In other instances not so much.

When one looks at the situation at Harvard University, and reviews the various statements by staff and student alike, it would appear to be a question.

"When does collaboration end and cheating begin?"

If the school is seeming to admit that the line of demarcation between these two concepts Has been somewhat unclear the students, Then who should bear the burden of that?

A related question is, once one decides the level of guilt, how does one communicate to the students what once was somewhat unclear but must be made clear. Such as the difference between collaboration and cheating.

Finally, comes the question that perhaps is actually driving this reaction by Harvard University. That question is how do we manage the embarrassment when it becomes reported in the media that we have a cheating problem?

Which of these questions do you think where most pressing to the university in this case?

Let's continue this discussion tomorrow when we bring in another story that might seem to be unrelated, but isn't.

For the original story upon which this blog was based, please go to http://www.boston.com/yourcampus/news/harvard/2013/02/half_of_students_in_harvard_cheating_scandal_required_to_withdraw_from_the_college.html