With CS50 Cheating Cases, FAS Dean Taking Hands-Off Approach

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith—a computer scientist by trade—is taking a hands-off approach to the wave of academic dishonesty cases in Harvard's flagship Computer Science course.

In an interview Friday, Smith said he “didn’t know enough to speak in detail” about the spate of academic dishonesty cases in Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science I.” More than 60 students enrolled in the course last semester faced academic dishonesty charges, The Crimson reported last week.

But Smith, who used to teach CS50, said he had no plans to talk with the course’s head instructor David J. Malan ’99—whose dissertation Smith advised. Smith added that he was reluctant “to get involved too deeply” in the Computer Science department, where he still teaches.

The FAS Dean
Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith, who teaches computer science, is taking a hands-off approach to revelations of widespread academic dishonesty in CS50.

Though Smith said he had not yet read The Crimson’s coverage of the CS50 cases as of Friday, he said that the amount of information about the cases made public was more than “makes us comfortable." The College is working to maintain the confidentiality of the students involved in the cases, according to Smith.

He added that the Honor Council makes individual reports to professors about their findings, “so that there’s feedback in the system and it doesn’t have to go public to back to the Honor Council to back to the faculty members.”

“One of our major concerns in our whole thing is that we are a learning institution, students are going to make mistakes,” Smith said. “You don’t learn unless you make mistakes. In my opinion you shouldn’t do academic dishonesty things but we also want to be able to provide environments where students that are making mistakes can have those mistakes be a learning opportunity for them.”

This is the second major public wave of academic dishonesty cases in a class during Smith’s tenure. In 2012, more than 120 students enrolled in Government 1310: “Introduction to Congress” underwent investigation for cheating.

“I don’t know enough details about what’s happening in this case to comment on any parallels” between the Government 1310 and CS50 situations, Smith said.

After the Government 1310 cheating scandal, Harvard instituted a number of reforms— including creating the Honor Council.

–Staff writer Mia C. Karr can be reached at mia.karr@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @miackarr.

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