Campus & Community

College announces investigation

4 min read

Inappropriate collaboration alleged on a take-home final

The Harvard College Administrative Board is investigating allegations that a significant number of students enrolled in an undergraduate course last semester may have inappropriately collaborated on answers, or plagiarized their classmates’ responses, on the final exam for the course.

An initial investigation by the board, the faculty committee charged with interpreting and applying the rules of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to the undergraduate student body, touched off a comprehensive review of the more than 250 take-home final exams submitted at the end of the course. That review has resulted in cases before the Administrative Board involving nearly half the students in the class.

“We take academic integrity very seriously because it goes to the heart of our educational mission,” said Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, who sent a letter to the FAS faculty today to outline actions the faculty can take to reinforce Harvard’s academic policies. “Academic dishonesty cannot and will not be tolerated at Harvard.”

Smith did not identify the course, and federal privacy laws prohibited the University from naming any students allegedly involved. But College and University officials said the allegations indicated a need to emphasize Harvard’s expectations for academic integrity.

“These allegations, if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends,” said Harvard University President Drew Faust. “We must deal with this fairly and through a deliberative process. At the same time, the scope of the allegations suggests that 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.”

While the allegations are limited to one class, FAS administrators and faculty members are taking a number of steps to underscore the importance of academic integrity for students even as the Administrative Board’s review continues. First among those steps: The College Committee on Academic Integrity, chaired by Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay Harris, is expected to present a set of recommendations to reinforce the faculty’s expectations of academic honesty. The committee, composed of faculty, undergraduate students, resident deans, and administrators, has been consulting with faculty and students in the College and assessing the practices of peer institutions on a range of actions, from the adoption of new ethics policies to the possible introduction of an honor code.

Additionally, a member of the Administrative Board staff has been tasked with building awareness among faculty and students about Harvard’s academic integrity policies. The College also will engage with outside experts on academic integrity as they initiate a campuswide discussion about this issue. College officials will work with Housemasters and resident deans to convene a series of House-level conversations about academic integrity issues, taking advantage of Harvard’s unique residential life system to promote House-level dialogue on a community-wide scale.

The allegations surfaced last semester when the faculty member teaching the course questioned the similarities between a number of exams and referred them to the Administrative Board. After reviewing those exams and interviewing the students who submitted them, representatives of the board initiated the broader review in consultation with the faculty member. The board’s process is still under way and the board has come to no judgments about specific cases.

Students found responsible of academic dishonesty could face disciplinary actions including, but not limited to, the requirement to withdraw from the College for a year.

But Smith cautioned against drawing broad conclusions. “We must also not forget that the vast majority of our students complete all their assignments honestly, diligently, and in accordance with our regulations and practices,” Smith said. “Allegations of inappropriate collaboration or plagiarism in a single class should not be allowed to diminish the good work or reputation of our outstanding student body.”

The Administrative Board, which will review each student’s case individually, follows well-established procedures to interpret and apply undergraduate academic regulations and standards of conduct. Its responsibilities include the evaluation of requests for exceptions to academic policies, review of students’ academic performance, and the resolution of alleged infractions of College rules and community standards.

“The board’s primary concern is for the education and personal growth of our undergraduates, both as individuals and as members of the Harvard community,” said Evelynn Hammonds, who chairs the Ad Board as dean of Harvard College and therefore could not comment publicly on specifics of the case.