Harvard Cheating is Partly School’s Fault

    Thomas G. Stemberg ’71, in a Jan. 6 letter addressed to Harvard University President Drew G. Faust, leveled a bombastic criticism at the investigation of academic dishonesty that brought down the two co-captains of the Harvard basketball team with Ivy League and NCAA 2013 tournament prospects. After former head coach Frank Sullivan was fired in 2007, retail chain Staples founder Stemberg played a role in revamping Harvard’s basketball program. That is, with other alumni donors, Stemberg helped finance a salary increase to recruit current head basketball coach Tommy Amaker, who led the Crimson team to its first March Madness appearance in 66 years last season.

    Star players, seniors Kyle D. Casey and Brandyn T. Curry, who were instrumental in the team’s success last year, were named co-captains of the squad and were expected by some to lead the Crimson to a third straight Ivy title this season. Instead, Casey and Curry chose to drop out of school, nailed by the cheating scandal.

    In his letter, Stemberg excoriated the way that assistant professor of government Matthew B. Platt organized Government 1310, writing that the structure of the course confused students and contributed to the scandal’s scope: “We had a professor who, like many the Faculty of Arts and Sciences assigns to teach undergraduates, was clearly not qualified to do so.” Harry R. Lewis ’68, dean of Harvard College from 1995 to 2003, has also criticized Harvard College’s handling of the investigation throughout a series of blog posts and newspaper articles. “I continue to be principally troubled that we’re not having, haven’t had yet, and there’s no indication that we’re going to have, a faculty conversation about how faculty conduct their courses,” Lewis said.

    The former dean echoed Stemberg’s complaint that the organization of the course — seen by many students as an easy “A” — fostered confusion about the limits of appropriate collaboration. “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 asked stentoriously. “When the course is sufficiently lax about its own standards, in 125 alleged cases of overlapping language, it’s very hard to figure out what everybody’s good faith expectations were about what they were supposed to do.”

    By the joint example of Stemberg and Lewis above, Harvard alumni basketball gatherings may range from formal dinners of aesthetes and scholars to uproariously informal rave-ups of drunkards and louts.

    Meanwhile, MIT physics professor and virtual education veteran Walter Lewin has added his popular course on electricity and magnetism to this spring’s edX class offerings. Lewin has been posting his lectures on MIT’s OpenCourseWare, iTunes, and YouTube.

    By the way, no one would ever share the answers for a virtual education exam.

    — Richard Thompson
    Alumnus ‘83

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