THE WIDESPREAD organized cheating that plagued Physics S-1, "Elements of Physics," this summer is disturbing on a number of counts. It is disturbing that students were callow enough in their pursuit of grades to take advantage of the course's innovative, low-pressure structure to get advance answers to its tests. It is disturbing that medical school admissions are so stringent and quantitative that pre-medical students--who made up almost all of Physics S-1--feel the need to cheat in order to raise their grades from A-s to As.
It will be especially disturbing if the administration takes the cheating incident as a sign that it should crack down on innovative instructional and teaching methods because they make it, as Dean Whitlock said last week, "easy and even tempting to cheat." Paul G. Bamberg, associate professor of Physics and the instructor of Physics S-1, has been a pioneer in developing methods of self-paced teaching that are designed to emphasize individual learning rather than performance on final exams, an emphasis that pre-med courses at Harvard badly need. Although Bamberg may not have been sufficiently wary of the possibility of cheating in the course, his sentiments in structuring it the way he did were unerringly correct. The way to prevent future cheating is to place a premium on learning, as Bamberg did, rather than on rigidly proscribed examination procedures that inevitably lead to intense competition for grades.