A Matter of Trust

HAVE YOU EVER cheated on an exam at Harvard? Be honest.

I'll bet you haven't.

We hear over and over to the point of nausea how proud Harvard is of the collection of students it assembles. We're the most talented, the most diverse, the most intelligent group in the country. But does Harvard trust us? Apparently not.

Every year, Harvard shells out thousands of dollars to hire an army of proctors to watch us take tests. In September, dozens of upperclassmen are signed on to monitor first-year placement tests. In January and May, hordes of graduate students, extension school students and non-affiliates invade the Yard to watch all 6500 undergrads sweat through final exams.

Sure, these proctors try to make themselves useful. They hand out extra blue books and will fetch you a pencil. They tell you when to put your pencils down. They pass out the blank exams and collect the blue books we have filled with wisdom.

But even Harvard knows we're old enough to bring a watch and a spare pencil. And professors and TF's are perfectly capable of dealing with the nitty-gritty pre-exam administrative details proctors now handle--after all, they do it during midterms.

Let's face it. The proctors are there to stop us from cheating.

IN 1985, according to a study on honor codes commissioned by then-Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence, Harvard spent $30,000 hiring proctors for final exams alone. That's a lot of money, especially when you consider that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is so financially strapped that it started cutting down Quad shuttlebus service last year.

One suspects this money could be better spent. Exam proctors specialize in pacing the aisles, looking over shoulders and peering at faces. All they do is heighten tension, which tends to be already considerable around exam time.

I took one computer science exam where a proctor watched me write an entire program. Writing in Pascal under deadline is difficult enough without an audience of University spies. I considered throttling the fellow.

I don't like being told to put my books to the side of the room and to stop talking. I don't like to be told I can't go to the bathroom for the first 90 minutes of a test. (I usually have to go after seeing the first question on my physics exams.) But I'm not bothered as much by the silly rules as I am by Harvard's total lack of faith in its academic superstars.

AN ACADEMIC COMMUNITY should be based on trust.

That may sound like impractical idealism. But many of the most competitive institutions in the country--including Princeton, Dartmouth, and Stanford--have honor codes that formally prohibit proctored exams.

That doesn't mean Harvard should have an honor code. At Princeton, the mandatory student pledge to report cheaters is unpopular and apparently causes more trouble than it is worth. Chad Muir, the chair of Princeton's student honor committee, says that out of the twenty of so cases that are reported each year, only one or two result in a conclusion of guilt.

Spence's 1985 study made no definitive conclusions about honor codes but pointed out that Harvard students would resent signing a pledge or being forced to report cheaters. The study also stated that we are generally too apathetic toward student-run institutions like the Undergraduate Council to respect any student court that might be created to judge cases of academic fraud.