Monday, April 22, 2013


"People speak of academic integrity as a once universally present virtue that has disappeared from campus. According to many, “Veritas” has lost its formerly rich meaning. Honesty and genuine academic interest was here during the “Golden Years,” when coins and America had values. But, as grandparents will tell you, kids today are too busy playing beer pong on their Ataris and helping trees instead of people to know what integrity is. Learning is pre-professional. Honesty is lost. The fight for academic integrity has become the fight to return to those old values we once cherished and lived by in “the good old days.”

The thing is, though, I don’t remember the “good old days.” And I shouldn’t. Because Harvard’s whole academic history (especially during the last two centuries) hasn’t been all that good. And remembering it as such is destructive to any progress we make in the wake of the scandal."

Find the link here. Or...


We're Past This


Like any young child, the discussion on campus surrounding the Government 1310 cheating scandal has aged with time. It began its life in shock as it explored the scandal’s juvenile limitations. It quickly grew bigger on the national stage. Then it had some teenage crises about email searches, and then mid-life crises regarding lying about those email searches. And finally now, as it focuses on the scandal’s legacy with a proposed honor code, the discussion has become the monologue of an elder, reflecting on the past with a grimace.

People speak of academic integrity as a once universally present virtue that has disappeared from campus. According to many, “Veritas” has lost its formerly rich meaning. Honesty and genuine academic interest was here during the “Golden Years,” when coins and America had values. But, as grandparents will tell you, kids today are too busy playing beer pong on their Ataris and helping trees instead of people to know what integrity is. Learning is pre-professional. Honesty is lost. The fight for academic integrity has become the fight to return to those old values we once cherished and lived by in “the good old days.”

The thing is, though, I don’t remember the “good old days.” And I shouldn’t. Because Harvard’s whole academic history (especially during the last two centuries) hasn’t been all that good. And remembering it as such is destructive to any progress we make in the wake of the scandal.

The popular Crimson feature “The Fall of Academics at Harvard” is a good example of how the comparison of academics to times of old falls prey to nostalgia. It uses more anecdotal evidence than facts and disproportionately focuses on classes, such as Ec 10, that seem to support its thesis of students and teachers caring about future finances rather than learning. It extensively quotes just a few older, outspoken professors.

In the end, the article’s notion of a “fall” from the past, while containing some truth, amounts to an overstatement. First off, the past, as writer Al Martinez put it, “was sepia-toned, not golden.” As Julie Reuben, professor of education and historian at the Graduate School of Education, reminded me, academic interest at Harvard historically has not been as high-minded as people may believe. In the late 1800s, the College transitioned its academic program from a required load of classics classes and a few electives to all electives with one required composition course. It basically became like Brown today, but without concentrations and people who think high-fiving is a varsity sport. Because of the change, students began picking classes based on ease, afternoon lectures, and the entertainment value of the lecturers. This “fallen” state mandated a reinstitution of more requirements under President Lowell.

More recently, the Kennedy family—the idealized faces of “Harvard men”—had their fair share of questionable academic pursuits. John F. Kennedy admitted to focusing on athletics much more than classes until he wrote his thesis. Ted Kennedy was involved in a cheating scandal and expelled from the school until he could reapply. And it’s not just the Kennedys. A New York Timesop-ed by Rebecca Harrington ’08 provides multiple examples of cheating from the last two centuries at Harvard.

The discussion also mischaracterizes the present. Professors quoted in the “Fall of Academics” mention the influence of Wall Street and pre-professional degrees on undergraduate pursuits. Yet they fail to mention the intrinsic interest in climate change, recession, and technologic innovation that drives many students’ devotion to their studies. The article uses Ec 10 as an offending example, but classes like Computer Science 50 (which the article does mention) and Philosophy 151z: “Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics” have enrolled more students this school year than ever before, despite high difficulty ratings. For every student I know who may fit the article’s description, I know many more who are genuinely (if not overly) interested in the subjects they study. We forget that students report that the policies on collaboration in Government 1310 were not consistently enforced, and we immediately assume the worst of our peers.

And this perception of our peers is not only inaccurate, but also harmful to progress. A comprehensive 1993 study on the effectiveness of honor codes found that it wasn’t the presence of written honor codes, nor severe punishments, nor the certainty of getting caught that most deterred academic dishonesty among more than 6,000 students across 31 universities. No—it was a positive perception of the academic integrity of peers that most effectively prevented cheating. The recently proposed honor code is just a piece of paper. No matter what its provisions are, it will only make a difference if students think they are surrounded by motivated and honest learners. The distorted comparisons have to end, and the University must begin discussions among students and faculty to make known and burnish the academic zeal that exists.

Because if the discussion of academics continues glossing over the diverse goals and ideals of the student body in one bitter, nostalgic glance, that piece of paper will never have a chance at influencing what students choose to write on theirs.

Dashiell F. Young-Saver ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Grays Hall.

second

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.