Harvard Didn't Want Cheating Scandal Kept Secret

Following on Thursday’s news that Harvard is investigating 125 undergraduates for allegedly collaborating or plagiarizing answers on an exam last spring, we were struck by Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris’s comment to the Crimson:

“It’s something that I think was obviously not going to stay secret, clearly, and nor do we want it to,” Harris said. “I think it’s important for us to be able to take an event like this and teach it, treat it as a teaching opportunity.”

Harvard, prominent as it is, has to deal with the pressures of being on top. When their students screw up, people pay attention. So it’s worth applauding the administration for accepting widespread media scrutiny in the hopes that the publicity will actually go toward deterring students from engaging in behaviors that have seemingly become pretty pervasive over there.

Sure, as Harris admits, the investigation was likely to get out with or without the university’s cooperation, especially once punishments were handed down. But it’s still conceivable that the university could have declined to address the controversy publicly until they’d sorted out punishments, citing an investigation that was still underway. The newsworthiness of this story is the enormous number of students under suspicion, a number the university actually offered up. Without it, any story would have had less impact. But the students are, of course, still just that: suspects. Harvard could have waited to deliver a somewhat lower number of those they actually found guilty of cheating, which might have blunted the shock of the story. They didn’t, and for that, perhaps they’ll have fewer embarrassing scandals to contend with going forward.