CUE Meeting Talks Integrity

Course websites and House tutors could become new weapons in Harvard’s fight against academic dishonesty if ideas discussed at Wednesday’s Committee on Undergraduate Education meeting are turned into policy.

At the meeting, CUE members—including top College administrators and several students—also debated whether secondary fields and citations distract from focused academic study of a single subject.

In contrast with last month’s meeting, in which committee members engaged in heated debate over the Add/Drop deadline and midterm grade feedback, administrators struck a more philosophical tone in their discussion Wednesday.

In the meeting, Director of the Program in General Education Stephanie H. Kenen offered two suggestions to discourage academic dishonesty: the addition of texts on each course website outlining that class’s collaboration policy, and an initiative to train House tutors “to be a little more expert on citation practices in their fields” to help students avoid plagiarism.

Kenen added that she and her colleagues are trying to approach the problem by “starting to lay the groundwork for change in the culture.”

She added, “We often know from Ad Board cases that it’s at two o’clock in the morning when the student has not slept and is feeling a lot of pressure that they make a really stupid judgment because either they don’t know how to cite or whether they should cite.”

Samuel F. Himel ’12, the chair of the Undergraduate Council’s Education Committee, told The Crimson after the meeting that he was skeptical of Kenen’s proposal to help alleviate academic dishonesty by training House tutors, calling the idea “a little bit shortsighted.”

Himel said, “We’re not talking about misattributed quotes here.... People cheat when they feel helpless, when they’ve got their backs up against the wall—by no means is [training tutors] going to make that go away.”

College administrators have had an eye on reevaluating Harvard’s academic integrity policy in the past year.

In Feb. 2011, the College conducted an online academic integrity survey to collect data on students’ experiences with academic dishonesty.

But last October, Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris told The Crimson that only 27 percent of students responded to the survey, providing insufficient data to recommend any new approach.

Currently, a Committee on Academic Integrity is meeting regularly to review possible next steps, including the creation of an honor code.

In a second proposal, former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 expressed concern that the range of academic options such as secondary fields and citations “results in students getting too distracted by doing too many different things.”

Lewis added, “There are too few incentives for people to do the kind of deep concentrated work from which they will learn the most and from which they will never again have the opportunity to benefit.”

At the Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting the day before, however, faculty members expressed nearly the opposite objection to expanding access to secondary fields: that too many secondary fields would not leave students enough room in their schedules to explore a wide variety of electives.

Kenen defended secondary fields, saying that the program was developed in part “to provide a more feasible option for many students who tried to pursue joint concentrations with fields that did not fit together well.”

Himel also questioned Lewis’ claim, saying he does not think students who pursue secondary fields or citations are necessarily too distracted to delve deeply into their concentration.

“People who want to do focused work have always done focused work,” he said.

—Staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins can be reached at rrobbins@college.harvard.edu.

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