Ethics Quote of the Week: Harvard Dean Jay Harris

“We always stress academic integrity with our students. It’s very hard to explain to someone that this raises ethical concerns and that it’s not OK.”

—-Jay Harris, Dean of Undergraduate Education at Harvard College, where about 125 students in a Government course are under investigation for cheating on a take-home final. Similarities in the tests handed in for Government 1310 ( Introduction to Congress) raised suspicions of copying or collaboration. It is the largest cheating scandal in Harvard history.


Yeah, right.

Harvard stresses academic integrity, but about half a class cheated as soon as some lazy professor was willing to trust the students with a take-home exam? Well, you’re not doing a very good job stressing integrity,are you, Dean? But why does Harvard have to stress integrity—aren’t these supposed to be the best and the brightest? Doesn’t the nation’s most prestigious college only admit students with integrity, or did they cheat to get into Harvard, too? Isn’t part of “best” being honest, and doesn’t “brightest” mean “doesn’t have to cheat”? I’m so confused!

Please help us understand, Dean Harris!

If Harvard already stresses integrity, why is it “hard to explain” to students so trained that cheating raises ethical concerns?  Isn’t “cheating” well within the vocabulary of all those kids who aced the English SATs? Why would it  be so hard to explain what’s wrong with cheating on exams even without training?Huh?

Wait, this is Harvard,  not E. Buzz Miller’s EZ Correspondence School and Diploma Mill, right? So if it’s so hard for Harvard to explain to supposedly brilliant students that CHEATING BAD…INTEGRITY GOOD, I submit that something is seriously amiss, such as a complete inability to teach Beginning Ethics for 10-Year Olds at a major university, even though it charges an arm and a leg for tuition.

What a disgrace.


Facts: Business Week

4 thoughts on “Ethics Quote of the Week: Harvard Dean Jay Harris

    Jack, the above link should just about destroy any hope you may still have for academic integrity. Kudos to the Chronicle of Higher Education for printing it, as it is not at all laudatory; from the highest administrator to the the lowliest applicant, the system is riddled with fraud. The author of the article makes his living aiding and abetting the corruption.
    Disgrace is far too tame a word for what is commonplace in higher education.

  2. Jack,
    A very right commentary, hard-hitting, and a very right question. I’m going to blog on it on Tuesday (after the weekend). But one tee-up thought: it’s not a question of people coming into Harvard with or without integrity – it’s a question of noticing issues of integrity when they sneak up on you.

    Your comment to the Dean is precisely right: they’re not doing a very good job of stressing integrity. But the key isn’t in moralizing, or developing a conscience; it lies in raising the alarm, highlighting violations, making people aware of what violations look like. Fowler’s link is part of the puzzle; when students are surrounded by violations, it’s hard to remember what a violation is.

  3. It would be a good thing if old fashioned shame became possible again. No one is ashamed of bad behavior anymore. Everyone just hopes to keep it contained or, failing that, to brazen it out.

  4. I once had a take home exam in college for a class. The instructor encouraged us to network and collaborate to get the highest possible score on the exam. The trick here was that even though nearly everyone was at the library collaborating, myself included, I was only 1 of 2 that got a score in the 90s on the exam because “group think” destroyed everyone else. It was a good lesson (even if unintended) that people will outsource their thinking if it means they can simply have an answer and don’t have to focus on a question.

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