Undergraduates, staffers, administrators, and fellow faculty members filled a lecture hall last Thursday afternoon to hear from — and speak to — a panel of faculty about academic integrity.

Titled “Doing Good Work in a Noisy, Messy World,” the discussion was the first in a series of events designed to engage the College community about this important topic.

“The world is not getting noisier or messier, but the ease with which one can run afoul of community standards seems to be increasing,” said Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay Harris, who moderated the talk. “This instinct is as old as humanity itself, but I suspect the strategy” and “the instruments to bring these things about are more available and are making it easier.”

In addition to Harris, the Harry Austryn Wolfson Professor of Jewish Studies, the panel included professors Stephanie Sandler, Joshua Greene, Rakesh Khurana, and interim Dean of the College Donald Pfister.

Pfister, the Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany, stressed that discussions about the subject should be broad, because integrity goes beyond academics. He said that in society as a whole, “cheating can be pretty widespread,” but it comes at a cost.

“Fraudulent work comes with consequences, and those consequences could be quite great. In a large context they can be economic, or they can be social,” Pfister said.  “I prefer for us to think about integrity beyond just academics, and think about how we are working and living in a community. For me, I value the academic community and the social communities we have here at Harvard.”

Khurana, the Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development at Harvard Business School, asked the audience members whether they had felt good or bad the last time they needed help but didn’t ask for it, and the onlookers’ response was negative. He then asked how they felt after they helped another person, and got a positive answer.

“When we need help, we feel bad, but if we give it we feel great. Why is that? I am really interested in this gap. Why is it people feel these two things?” said Khurana, co-master of Cabot House. “That culture of feeling you have to be perfect all the time actually prevents you from doing good work. Doing good work is about taking risks, it’s about opening yourself up to things that you are not sure are going to work out, and it’s about asking for help.”

When the discussion was opened to the audience, students and faculty discussed topics such as smaller classes, limiting time spent on extracurricular activities, fostering better relationships with professors, and a peer-generated adherence to academic integrity.

Addressing students, Sandler, the Ernest E. Monrad Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, said, “Any change would have to come from you as well, and intervention at the student-to-student level.”

Sandler also said that academic achievement does not necessarily equate to a perfect grade.

“For me, I wanted to say things that mattered to me. It’s not about achievement or success, but about the material you are working with,” she said.

The community-wide discussions about academic integrity will continue throughout the year, Harris said, with plans to hold similar events across the campus as the Academic Integrity Committee continues drafting a modified honor code.

Terah Lyons ’16, who is working with the committee on drafting a code, applauded the first community discussion.

“I think it went really well and was one of the most authentic conversations that has been had on this subject. And this is a great conversation to have,” she said.

 

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