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Officials of a popular Core course made final exam questions available to students Wednesday, just three days before the test, after a laptop containing a copy of the exam was stolen.
The laptop computer belonging to Karim A. Al-Zand, the head teaching fellow for Literature and Arts B-80: "The Swing Era," was stolen from Al-Zand's office Wednesday morning.
Because the computer contained complete copies of both the final exam and the make-up, Al-Zand, fellow TFs and Robinson Professor of Music Robert D. Levin '68 decided to list all possible questions on the course's website in order to ensure that all students have equal access to the test.
"I'm operating on the assumption that it wasn't someone from the course just for my peace of mind," Al-Zand said. "I would like to think that no one in the class would do something like that. It seems to be pretty idiotic, but you never know."
But in an e-mail message to Swing Era students, TF Jonathan M. Wild wrote that "some details of the incident strongly suggest a connection with the class."
The theft occurred around 11 a.m. Wednesday, said Harvard University Police Department spokesperson Peggy A. McNamara.
Shortly before the break-in, Al-Zand talked to a suspicious person described as a black male, 5 feet 7 inches tall, 180 pounds, with medium complexion and build and short, possibly dreadlocked hair.
"This guy is definitely a suspect," McNamara said.
Although the suspect was not identified as a student, Al-Zand said that posting the exam questions was a necessary precaution.
"We didn't want to have the exam compromised and other people have an unfair advantage," he said.
The course's TFs contemplated writing a new exam but decided that three days was too short a time to produce an equally good test.
"We spent a long time writing the two exams that were taken," Al-Zand said. "You write an exam, you think you've written a good exam, you want people to take that exam."
But Al-Zand said he hoped the exam would still accomplish its goals.
"The surprise factor is gone," he said. "[But] all I care about is that people learn the material and take something away from the class. It's not intended to surprise anyone."
In his e-mail message, Wild wrote, "We realize that this necessarily entails a change in your studying approach--and this at a very late stage. Any inconvenience is regretted; the timing of the incident has made it difficult to envisage alternative solutions."
Some Swing Era students agreed that the altered playing field left them no choice but to study harder.
"It really worries me that there are now neurotic people out there who are going to memorize essay questions," said Andrea R. Quintana '02.
Quintana said she plans to "definitely put more energy into the specific concepts."
But while students said they plan to step up their preparation to tailor their knowledge to the test, they said they found it hard to believe that anyone would steal the laptop just to obtain questions like the following: "It is 1937 and you are a young jitterbug. You'd like to jive (and possibly wail) to the latest 'killer-dillers' at the hottest Harlem dance spot. Where would you be likely to go?"
"I was kind of amused, actually, that someone would go to such lengths...especially for a class like "The Swing Era," which is pretty manageable," Quintana said.
"It's the kind of class that most people don't care that much about," David L. Wollenberg '03 added. " I can't believe somebody would go to such an effort."
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