See here for my previous post on the scandal. One of the writers at the great Lawyers, Guns, & Money blog has another post about it. The New York Times article giving the students’ side of the case doesn’t make the writer more sympathetic.
In other words, a substantial number of students at one of America’s elite educational institutions expected a gut course, and were appalled when they were expected to learn something and given exams where there was some risk of bad performance.
I can easily imagine that there was some of that going on, but the situation really does sound different to me. Here is a quote from a Harvard Crimson article the writer links to:
Another student wrote that he or she joined about 15 other students at a teaching fellow’s office hours on the morning of May 3, just hours before the final take-home exam’s 5 p.m. deadline.
“Almost all of [the students at office hours] had been awake the entire night, and none of us could figure out what an entire question (worth 20% of the grade) was asking,” the student wrote. “On top of this, one of the questions asked us about a term that had never been defined in any of our readings and had not been properly defined in class, so the TF had to give us a definition to use for the question.”
That same student also expressed frustration that Platt [the professor] had canceled his office hours the morning before the exam was due. In a brief email to the class just after 10 a.m. on May 3, Platt apologized for having to cancel his office hours on short notice that day due to an appointment.
The Lawyers, Guns, & Money writer talks about the students’ “pathetic sense of entitlement,” but this quote doesn’t sound like students who were annoyed that they were actually being asked to study for a course where they had expected an easy A. It sounds more like students who were in a panic when they realized the course hadn’t prepared them for the final.
I’m still inclined to view this more as a case of educational malpractice than of organized cheating by a bunch of entitled elite students. And I’m still convinced that the Harvard administration is going to have a tough time making any charges stick against these kids. I have a reunion coming up at Harvard in a few weeks that I was making plans to not attend. It might be worth going just to find out how Faust and company are handling this thing.