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'More Than Half' of Ad Board Cases Last Fall Led to Withdrawals, Harvard Says

By Michelle Denise L. Ferreol and Jared T. Lucky, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: February 5, 2013, at 6:08 a.m.

Roughly 70 students, or approximately one percent of Harvard’s undergraduate body, were forced to temporarily withdraw from the College last fall in connection with the massive Government 1310 cheating scandal, Harvard indicated in an announcement Friday morning.

In an email sent to the Harvard community, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith wrote that “somewhat more than half” of the cases heard by the College’s Administrative Board last fall resulted in forced withdrawals. He did not specify exactly how many students were required to leave.

Smith also wrote that about half of the fall’s remaining cases resulted in disciplinary probation, while the rest resulted in no disciplinary action.

About 125 of the cases heard by the Ad Board last fall were those of students implicated in the scandal, which was unearthed after assistant professor Matthew B. Platt reported suspicious similarities on a handful of take-home exams in his spring course Government 1310: “Introduction to Congress.”

After this initial tip-off, the College launched an investigation that eventually expanded to involve almost half of the 279 students enrolled in the course.

Smith also revealed details about how tuition payments will be calculated for students who were required to withdraw mid-fall semester due to their involvement in the scandal.

Due to a prolonged time frame for the resolution of the cases stretching from late September to December that “had an undesirable interaction with our established schedule for tuition refunds,” the College will adjust tuition charges for all students who eventually withdrew as though they were issued their verdicts on Sept. 30, he wrote.

According to the student handbook, a student who involuntarily or voluntarily withdraws from the College on Sept. 30 must pay $4,697 in tuition, as well as per diem room charges, pro-rated board costs, and a student services fee.

Smith’s email, which represents Harvard’s first substantive announcement about the investigation’s status since it was first announced last August, comes in the midst of harsh criticism of Harvard’s handling of the case from several longtime Harvard insiders.

Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 voiced his disapproval in several blog posts, and prominent men’s basketball supporter and Staples founder Thomas G. Stemberg ’71 excoriated his alma mater for its response to the scandal in a letter of complaint sent to University President Drew G. Faust last month.

Smith’s email repeatedly alluded to these and other criticisms, at times striking a defensive tone in addressing the amount of time the University took to resolve the cases, concerns about faculty teaching, and the public outing of some accused students.

After both Lewis and Stemberg criticized Harvard for failing to hand out verdicts in a timely manner, Smith attributed the slow turnover of the investigation—which began in the summer but did not wrap up until early December—to “the unprecedented number and complexity of cases.”

Critics of the investigation have also drawn attention to the way Platt organized Government 1310, a factor which both Stemberg and Lewis blamed for the unprecedented scope of the scandal.

“We had a professor who, like many the Faculty of Arts and Sciences assigns to teach undergraduates, was clearly not qualified to do so,” Stemberg wrote in his letter to Faust, which was dated Jan. 6.

Stemberg declined to comment on the letter when it was first obtained by The Crimson. Platt has declined or not responded to requests for comment since the scandal broke.

In an interview last month, Lewis echoed Stemberg’s criticisms of the course’s structural problems, which he identified as an ambiguous collaboration policy and the general perception that the course offered students an easy ‘A.’

“How is it that hundreds of students knew the way this course was run, and nobody in the Government department knew? Or if they did know, why didn’t anybody stop it from happening?” Lewis said.

In his email, Smith offered a response to criticisms of this nature by highlighting the efforts of the Committee on Academic Integrity, a group of administrators, faculty, and students that has been meeting since fall 2010.

Smith wrote that this spring the Committee will make recommendations to faculty on how to structure and administer assessments, including the creation of a repository of “well-crafted exams” as a resource for faculty. The committee is also considering the possibility of introducing an honor code devised in collaboration with students.

Smith made clear, however, that both proposals are only “potential recommendations” that will not necessarily be implemented.

Smith also defended Harvard’s decision to publicly announce the scandal as a means of creating a conversation about academic integrity, a decision that some critics say led to the public outing of some accused students.

“It never was, as some have mistakenly assumed, to shine a bright light on any student or other member of our community,” Smith wrote. “Let me be crystal clear: we all can do better.”

Thomas W. Mannix '81, who along with Stemberg co-chairs the alumni fundraising organization Friends of Harvard Basketball, said that many close to the athletic department are unhappy with the way Harvard managed the scandal.

“I don’t know anybody who feels that the University has handled this well—not one former alum, not one former player,” he said in an interview with The Crimson earlier this week.

Mannix said that the focus on individual students throughout the investigation was “unfair,” adding that he is particularly frustrated by the media’s focus on the men’s basketball team’s involvement in the scandal.

Basketball co-captains Kyle D. Casey ’13 and Brandyn T. Curry ’13, who were expected to lead the team to another NCAA tournament appearance, gained widespread media attention after news outlets reported that the star players had chosen to withdraw from the team after being investigated.

“National broadcasts mention Kyle and Brandyn. They pull up pictures of their faces,” said Mannix, who is a former men’s basketball co-captain. “These kids have been singled out, and that’s what stinks to the Friends of Harvard Basketball.”

Mannix said that Harvard should have tried harder to maintain anonymity for investigated athletes and other accused students in its dealings with the media.

“The University could have protected all 125 of these kids,” he said.

Smith’s email, however, said that the University has not commented on any particular student’s case and will continue to adhere to this policy.

—Staff writer Michelle Denise L. Ferreol can be reached at mferreol@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @michiferreol.

—Staff writer Jared T. Lucky can be reached at lucky@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @jared_lucky.

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