As Harvard conducts its most sweeping investigation into academic dishonesty at the College in recent memory, several of the roughly 125 students implicated in the case say they are frustrated by the uncertainty they face as Harvard’s disciplinary board debates if and how to punish them.
On Thursday, Harvard administrators took the unprecedented step of announcing that they were investigating the large group of students for allegedly plagiarizing answers or inappropriately collaborating on a final take-home exam in an undergraduate class, which The Crimson reported was assistant professor Matthew B. Platt’s spring course Government 1310: “Introduction to Congress.”
Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris declined to comment on how long the investigation, which is being conducted on a case-by-case basis, could take, but one undergraduate among the suspected cheaters said that Secretary of the Ad Board John “Jay” L. Ellison had told him in a personal meeting that he could expect to receive a verdict by November.
The student said he feels the Administrative Board process has left him unable to make plans for the new semester that begins on Tuesday as he waits to hear whether he will be forced to withdraw from Harvard.
“I don’t know whether to unpack for the year or not,” said the student, who was granted anonymity by The Crimson because he did not want it known that he is suspected of cheating. “Do I buy textbooks? ... Because you can’t go on as if everything’s okay, because everything’s not okay.”
Although the Ad Board does not meet during summer months, the student said he wished Harvard had summoned administrators to campus during the break to expedite the process so students would know their fate before the fall semester began.
“Because of the unprecedented nature of this, they should have started this process as early as they could,” he said. “When Harvard realized that they were dealing with such a big widespread issue…they should have said, ‘Hey, we need [administrators] back here.’”
In an internal email between College administrators obtained by The Crimson, Ellison wrote on Aug. 16 that if the Ad Board votes to require a student in this case to withdraw from the College for a year—a known penalty for academic dishonesty at Harvard—that penalty would likely take effect immediately, allowing the student to return for the Fall 2013 semester.
He discussed the possibility that some students, especially those who believe themselves to be guilty, might choose to take a voluntary leave of absence at the start of the term, before the board adjudicates their cases. Such a leave would likely be converted to a required withdrawal on their records if they were later convicted, the email said.
The message was addressed to “Colleagues,” and one resident dean, who was granted anonymity by The Crimson due to the secrecy of the Ad Board’s deliberations, said that the email was delivered to others of the 12 House resident deans, who all serve on the Ad Board.
In the message, Ellison wrote, “The only folks that may want to really consider [a leave of absence] are those students who know that they cheated,” and noted that some students found guilty in the case may be sentenced only to probation or a lighter penalty, not a required withdrawal.
But he also wrote that any student athletes under investigation might choose to withdraw voluntarily before their first games of the season, even if their cases have not yet been settled. “Once they compete one time their season counts and they would lose eligibility if they had to take a year off and return,” he wrote, though he noted that advising students on NCAA eligibility is not the job of the Ad Board.
Both Ellison and Jeff Neal, a spokesperson for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, declined to comment on the email, which also mentioned that several students had expressed confusion about the reprisals they might face.
“We have had some feedback from students about confusing messages in reference to possible sanctions for the Gov 1310 case,” the email opened, naming the course which administrators have said they will not publicly identify.
One alumnus under investigation, who took “Introduction to Congress” last spring before graduating in May, said the lack of answers about how cheaters could be punished is especially nerve-wracking for recent graduates.