Cheating at Harvard

2 Sep

Moi discussed cheating in schools in Cheating in schools goes high-tech

Some colleges in an attempt to curb academic dishonesty on campus are beginning to employ methods one has usually associated with Las Vegas casinos. Minnesota State University Mankato has an excellent newsletter article about academic dishonesty. Richard C. Schimming writes in Academic Dishonesty

A recent survey found that 1/3 of all students admitted to cheating on an examination, 1/2 admitted to cheating on a class assignment, 2/3 admitted to cheating at least once during their college career, and 2/3 have seen classmates cheat on exams or assignments. Paradoxically, 3/4 of those in that survey believe that cheating is not justified under any circumstances. Finally, 1/2 of the students surveyed believe that the faculty of their university do not try to catch cheaters….

The various reasons that students give for cheating can also be instructive in obtaining a picture of academic dishonesty. Gleaned from a variety of sources, the list of student reasons for cheating given below is meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive:

  1. Today’s generation of student has less of an attachment to the institution so that cheating is more impersonal and seen as less painful because of this detachment.

  2. The difficult job market places a premium on a high grade point average so that any means necessary will be employed to achieve and maintain good grades.

  3. Some students believe that professors are cheating them in the classroom by shirking their teaching responsibilities. Therefore, students come to believe that turnabout is fair play.

  4. New entering students find themselves in courses beyond their capability so they resort to cheating to succeed in the course.

The metaphors and social constructs provided by students in surveys can also provide insight into the rationale for academic dishonesty. In one recent study, students used the following metaphors for cheating:

  1. Cheating is just a game, so that it is not important how you win but what is important is that you win.

  2. Cheating is an addiction. Once a student has successfully cheated in some academic context, the urge to continue can become addicting.

  3. Cheating is an easy out. Rather than working hard to master the material, a student can be tempted to use the shortcut of academic dishonesty.

  4. Cheating is a personal dilemma. Students do not begin to cheat because they are ignorant of the potential consequences. Rather the decision to cheat is a difficult decision for most students.

  5. Cheating is theft. The act of cheating robs the institution, the professor, the cheating student, and the other students.

  6. Cheating is a team effort. Cheating does not occur in a vacuum. Where there is a culture that condones cheating and where a student sees other students cheating, academic dishonesty is more likely to flourish.

For some students, cheating starts early. By the time some kids reach college they have already established a pattern of cheating. ABC News has a good report, A Cheating Crisis in America’s Schools

Even elite institutions like Harvard are not immune from cheating scandals.

Valerie Strauss reports in the Washington Post article, Yes, they cheat at Harvard, too:

The scandal at Harvard University in which authorities are investigating whether nearly half of a class of 279 students cheated on a take-home final exam raises a number of questions, including this: Does everybody cheat?

At the moment, Harvard is dealing with what an official said was an ”unprecedented” case of suspected academic dishonesty this past spring in a government class called “Introduction to Congress,” according to the Harvard Crimson student newspaper. Sanctions for students found guilty of cheating include leaving Harvard for a year.

Harvard, like most U.S. colleges and universities, has never had an honor code, although the Associated Press reports that it is giving “renewed consideration” to the idea as a result of the scandal.

But even honor codes at schools that take pride in them don’t stop some cheating. In fact, cheating has long been endemic, from the early grades through college — and Harvard grads note that cheating is hardly uncommon there.

So, does everybody cheat?

Not quite, but studies show that most students cheat at one time or another.

* A survey of 40,000 high school students done by the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics in 2010 found that more than half of teenagers said they had cheated on a test in the previous year, and 34 percent said they had done it more than twice.

* One-third of the students said in the same survey that they had plagiarized an assignment with the help of the Internet.

* An article in the American Psychology Association journal notes that things don’t get better in college. Donald McCabe, a business professor at Rutgers University and co-founder of Clemson University’s International Center for Academic Integrity, has been studying cheating for decades.

He found in one study that that about two-thirds of college students admit to cheating on tests, homework and assignments.

* The consequences for the country may be significant. A 2009 study by the Josephson Institute about the relationship between high school attitudes and behavior and later adult conduct found that people who cheated on exams in high school two or more times are considerably more likely to be dishonest later in life as compared to those who never cheated in high school.

Theories about why students cheat range from character issues to mental issues.

Sora Song of Time.Com discusses the inevitable study in the article, Profiling Student Cheaters: Are the Psychopaths?

Psychologists at the University of British Columbia found that students who cheated in high school and college were likely to meet the criteria for psychopathic personality – the type that tends toward a range of bad behaviors, like alcohol and drug abuse, bullying and reckless driving. It’s the same impulsive, callous and antisocial personality that characterizes criminal psychopaths, though, to be fair, student cheaters scored a lot lower on psychopathy questionnaires than actual criminal offenders. (More on Video: Giving Dropouts a Second Chance)

The researchers found that academic cheaters also scored high in two other personality traits: narcissism (people who suffer from grandiosity, self-centeredness and an outsized sense of entitlement) and Machiavellianism (cynical, amoral types who make it a habit to manipulate others). But of the three disordered personalities – together known colorfully as the Dark Triad – psychopathy was the only trait significantly associated with student cheating.

The new paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, describes the results of a series of three studies involving nearly 600 college students. (Read a PDF of the paper here.) In each, the volunteers were asked to fill out anonymous personality questionnaires; some participants also took tests of intelligence. Personality questions included: “I like to be the center of attention” (i.e., I may be a narcissist), “It’s hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there” (Machiavellianism), and “I have attacked someone with the goal of hurting them” (psychopathy).

The conclusion of the study is that the only thing which can be done is to make it impossible for the psychopath to cheat since they obviously have no impulse control and an appeal to values doesn’t work. One of the frightening prospects highlighted by the article is that it is possible to screen for psychopathic traits in people, but it probably wouldn’t be ethical for schools to do so. So, like the chicken and the egg riddle, society is back at placing the emphasis on strong families, values, and a K-12 education which sets some perimeters. Something to think about.

Caroline Knorr has some excellent advice in the Common Sense Media article, Caught Cheating: New Ways Kids Are Breaking the Rules

How to Talk to Kids About Cheating

1. Is it a shortcut or a cheat? A kid who knowingly tries to pass off someone else’s work as his own is cheating. If he takes a shortcut — say, doing research on Wikipedia rather than at the library — that’s an error in judgment about the trustworthiness of Wikipedia’s material. In this case, kids should understand that Wikipedia isn’t the same as an original source.

2. Is it a “cheat” or a gimme? The term “cheat” has become a part of the culture. Game developers plant “cheats” in their games to reward kids who are savvy enough to find out the cheat codes. But “cheat” in this case isn’t really accurate. Games are intentionally designed with these built-in rewards to add an extra challenge. Kids should understand the distinction — game cheats are a ploy, but there’s no secret code that unlocks your homework.

3. Is it collaborating or cheating? Texting the answers to someone taking a test is cheating, and your child’s school surely has a policy against it. But other forms of communication — like collaborating via IM on Facebook with friends — might actually be OK because they help kids work out problems together. As long as the teacher approves and your kids understand the ground rules around not stealing others’ answers or giving away their own, a little IMing during homework time — for help, not full-scale answer delivery — is probably OK.

4. What technology is OK to use for school? Don’t let the technology — or the anonymity — of some of these methods get in the way of talking about cheating. Cheating means taking credit for something you didn’t do or giving your own answers away. Where and how it’s done doesn’t matter. Follow your school’s policy on the use of digital devices.

5. How did you feel when you did it? That sinking feeling my friend had when her Facebook friends solved the word problems? That was her conscience. Kids have a sense of right and wrong, but they need a lot of reminders to do the right thing. One ally you have is kids’ desire to make their own choices. In this case, the choice is literally in their hands. They can create an honest, open Internet and mobile world, or they can create one in which they’ll always have to be suspicious of what they find and who they know.

Remember the Goldman Sucks weasels started small.


Trip Gabriel has an interesting article in the New York Times about the University of Central Florida’s attempts to defeat cheaters. In To Stop Cheats, Colleges Learn Their Trickery

ABC News has a good report, A Cheating Crisis In America’s Schools

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

2 Responses to “Cheating at Harvard”


  1. The military mirrors society « drwilda - November 13, 2012

    […] For some students, cheating starts early. By the time some kids reach college they have already established a pattern of cheating. ABC News has a good report, A Cheating Crisis in America’s Schools […]

  2. The military mirrors society « Comments From An Old Fart - November 13, 2012

    […] For some students, cheating starts early. By the time some kids reach college they have already established a pattern of cheating. ABC News has a good report, A Cheating Crisis in America’s Schools […]

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