Yale weighs academic integrity policies

Yale administrators are reflecting on the University’s academic integrity policies after almost 70 Harvard students were implicated in the largest cheating scandal in Ivy League history in the fall.

Michael Smith, dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, announced at the beginning of February that the university’s Administrative Board had concluded its investigation of nearly half of the 279 students in Government 1310 “Introduction to Congress” who were accused of illicit collaboration on their take-home final exam last spring. Smith said nearly half of those implicated had been required to withdraw from Harvard temporarily, though some students said the issue was complicated by lack of clarity over what constituted illicit collaboration on an open-note exam. Joseph Gordon, Yale College deputy dean and dean of undergraduate education, said Harvard’s situation highlights the importance of upholding and re-emphasizing University-wide standards of academic integrity.

“What you want to do is promote a culture of open communication between instructors and students about expectations for conduct in this particular course or on this particular assignment, and not just a broad conversation about ‘be good’ or ‘don’t plagiarize,’” Gordon said.

Though administrators said they feel Yale’s existing academic integrity standards remain strong, Yale College Dean Mary Miller discouraged professors from offering take-home exams in a November email to the faculty. Miller said this recommendation was influenced both by Harvard’s situation and by concerns about the strength of take-home exams as an assessment tool, adding that professors can still opt to offer a take-home final if they provide clear instructions on how it should be completed.

Gordon said Yale’s course proposal form includes a section in which professors must provide clear information about their expectations for assignments and views on academic honesty to their students, and before a class is approved, professors must specifically define what constitutes cheating in their class.

Jay Harris, Harvard’s dean of undergraduate education, told The Harvard Crimson in August that Harvard would consider preventive measures such as an academic honor code, but Gordon said he does not think an honor code is the best way to promote a culture of academic integrity at Yale.

“There are clearly ways in which faculty members can discourage unwanted collaboration if they are concrete and specific and open to inquiries from students,” Gordon said.

Three Harvard students interviewed said their professors have made a more targeted attempt to emphasize what is allowed on assignments after the widespread cheating incident.

“If nothing else, professors have definitely made it much more obvious that if you do cheat, [it’s] going to be taken much more seriously,” said Gabriel Molina, a sophomore at Harvard. “It seems like they are trying to make this much more of a theme than it has been in the past.”

Max Wang, another Harvard sophomore, said he thought Harvard’s policies on cheating and plagiarism were already clear, but that he has seen more discussion on the topic in and outside of the classroom this year.

All five Yale students interviewed said they have not experienced confusion over what is allowed in schoolwork, though they added that most of their take-home assignments are problem sets instead of exams.

“I think professors expect us to act with integrity, and they trust us to work wisely with each other,” Matt Goldklang ’16 said. “My professors encourage collaboration, and I’ve never felt unclear on what that meant.”

The investigation of students in “Introduction to Congress” began in May after a teaching fellow noticed similarities between multiple students’ exams.

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