When Platt first taught Government 1310 in spring 2010, students who evaluated the course on the Q Guide gave the course, and Platt, reviews near the average for the social sciences. Student reviews praised Platt for his effective lectures and his accessibility outside the classroom, but they also noted that it was not a particularly difficult class.
The consistently well-enrolled course, which Platt taught again the following year, also gained a reputation for its lack of difficulty and its collaborative atmosphere; the reading assignments were usually fewer than 100 pages a week, and participation was not graded. Students’ grades were calculated solely based on their scores on four equally weighted take-home essay exams.
As Platt prepared to teach the course for a third time in spring 2012, however, he introduced a major change to the syllabus. Platt would still grade students exclusively on their take-home exam scores, but he altered the format of the tests, using more short-answer and multi-part questions, many of which were less open-ended than the prompts of the previous format. Even before the cheating investigation was announced, students reacted harshly to the change, criticizing the class in their Q Guide reviews submitted at the end of spring 2012. The course’s overall Q Guide rating also fell to 2.67 out of 5 possible points, far below the previous year’s figure of 3.57 and the average among social sciences courses, 3.93.
The announcement of the scandal caused ripples that lasted throughout the last academic year. Professors emphasized collaboration policies on their syllabi, the Committee on Academic Integrity proposed the College’s first-ever honor code, and administrators held town-hall meetings soliciting student feedback on the academic culture at Harvard.
Now, with the students forced to take last year off for their involvement in the case back on campus, Platt is not teaching this semester. He is, however, scheduled to teach two spring government seminars—one for undergraduates and another for graduate students—which are expected to be his last at Harvard.
He says on his website that at the moment, “most of my time” is spent working on a book examining black congressional leaders and policy since Reconstruction, currently titled “From Trailblazers to Tokens.”
—Staff writer Matthew Q. Clarida can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MattClarida.
—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @npfandos.