Thursday, September 06, 2012

Every cheater is a unique snowflake

Le Crimson, which has nothing much to report on in the first week of school, is milking this cheating scandal dry. In the process, we learn many exciting things about the workings of Harvard, such as its "reformed" options for addressing academic dishonesty:
Before the reform, students found guilty of academic misconduct by the Ad Board would have faced three possible punishments: a warning, a probationary period, or a requirement to withdraw from the College, typically for two to four semesters. 
But due to a change approved by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in May 2010, the Ad Board has two additional, arguably less severe, ways to punish students which it may use for anyone found guilty of illicit collaboration in Government 1310. 
In cooperation with the board and the chairs of their department, professors now have the power to dole out “local sanctions” to students guilty of academic dishonesty, including required tutoring, a mandatory re-do of the assignment in question, or a grade penalty. 
The Ad Board also now has the power to “exclude” guilty students from Government 1310, a transcript notation equivalent to failing the course. Matthew L. Sundquist ’09—a former Undergraduate Council president and member of the Committee to Review the Administrative Board, which recommended those and other changes to the Board in a 2009 report—said his committee’s recommendations were intended to fix a one-size-fits-all approach to punishing cheaters. 
“[The committee] wanted to have more nuanced abilities to use meaningful outcomes in the educational process,” Sundquist said. “People should be given a second chance—we thought that was the most educational way of doing it.”
The important thing about cheating is not that it be discouraged, diminished, or punished, but rather that it be a "meaningful" experience for all involved. How many times have people cheated only to find that it didn't in the end satisfy their thirst for meaning and desire for education? So many times. This is why Harvard will seek to improve the cheating experience by offering individually-designed responses to incidents of cheating that will facilitate the personal enrichment of those implicated. For example, how is a cheater improved by simply being thrown out of school for two years? Not at all! (Even Plato knew that.) Suspension causes feelings of shame and possibly even guilt, and ashamed, guilty cheaters are far worse off than happy, confident cheaters. That is why instead of merely punitive measures that do nothing to improve the individual, Harvard will offer its cheaters self-enriching options like tutoring and re-doing the assignment in question.

This is surely the most educational way of giving cheaters second chances because, in addition to learning how to cheat from their experiences, they will also learn the material covered by their tutor. (This may even be very the material they plagiarized in the first place, thereby ensuring that cheating does not pose any  trade-off between learning course material and learning to cheat on course material.) Right there we have two chances to learn! And, they will receive grades for both activities - in cheating they will perhaps have to be given low marks on account of having been caught (although to avoid this blemish on their transcripts, we can consider giving credit for effort), but they can compensate for this disappointment by receiving higher marks on the re-done assignment. In this way, Harvard's cheaters will enter the world more accomplished and versatile than the merely failed, suspended, or expelled graduates of  more reactionary and benighted institutions.

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