As a Harvard committee looks to examine the proper place of take-home exams in undergraduate courses in the wake of this fall’s massive cheating investigation, Yale administrators have discouraged their own faculty from administering take-home finals in response to the scandal at Harvard.
On Wednesday, The Yale Daily News reported that Mary Miller, dean of Yale College, wrote an email to professors this month urging them to consider switching to in-class examinations. Miller said her suggestion was directly prompted by Harvard’s scandal. Harvard is currently investigating about 125 students who are accused of inappropriately collaborating on a final take-home exam in last spring’s Government 1310: “Introduction to Congress.”
Harvard administrators have continued to condone out-of-classroom examinations since the cheating scandal came to light. Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith sent an email to faculty on the day the scandal broke instructing them to give clear instructions about appropriate collaboration on take-home assessments. However, Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris has said that the Committee on Academic Integrity will continue to discuss issues surrounding take-home exams this academic year.
Harvard faculty have taken an even stronger stand in defending their choice to administer out-of-classroom exams. Several Harvard professors criticized Yale’s recommendation about take-home finals, suggesting that their rival institution’s approach was heavy-handed.
“I trust my students at Harvard not to cheat and don’t intend to bend my procedures to whatever advice Dean Miller of Yale College is giving the faculty there,” said Professor Laurence H. Tribe ’62, who teaches the undergraduate course United States in the World 18: “Thinking About the Constitution.”
Classics lecturer Timothy G. Barnes, who will still assign take-home exams in Latin 134: “Archaic Latin,” agreed.
“It seems like an overreaction to me on the part of Miller at Yale,” Barnes said.
Barnes added that he would not have been happy if Harvard administrators had issued the same recommendations about take-home exams as their counterparts at Yale.
“If it was a suggestion, I probably would not have followed it,” Barnes said. “If it were an order, I would not have particularly liked being given that order.”
Government and Sociology professor Theda R. Skocpol, who co-teaches United States in the World 31: “American Society and Public Policy,” said she believes that professors should be allowed to make their own decisions about assessment methods.
“If Harvard told me that I should stop handing out take-home exams, I would stop teaching large classes,” Skocpol said. “I don’t think it’s the administration’s right to tell us to do that.”
Skocpol added that she thinks it is a “terrible idea” to make knee-jerk pedagogical decisions based on media pressure to condemn all forms of collaboration. She questioned, “If we discourage undergraduates from talking to each other, what’s the point of a university?”
Peter F. Lake ’81, a Stetson University professor who specializes in higher education law, predicted that other schools would follow Yale by making internal changes in reaction to Harvard’s scandal.
“I have a feeling that you’re going to have an arms race...especially among elite institutions,” Lake said. “There will be people beating their chests and saying that we’re doing this, we’re taking a strong approach,”
Lake declared: “This is a competition now.”
—Staff writer Michelle Denise L. Ferreol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.