“harvard probes biggest cheating scandal”
“Harvard probes biggest cheating scandal,” was the headline of a brief news report in the September 01, 2012, issue of the Times of India, Mumbai edition. About 125 Harvard University undergraduates are being investigated for cheating in a final examination last year, the largest academic scandal in the institution’s history, the report read. The allegations of academic dishonesty ranging from inappropriate collaboration to outright plagiarism are being investigated by the Harvard College Administration Board.
The science exhibition organized at our Orchid International in 2010 is a modest attempt to provide a scintillating opportunity for our students to explore and learn some of the basic concepts of mathematics and sciences through the hands-on, fun method!
I am sure we will hear more about the investigation, on a periodic basis, for some more time to come. The reports will reveal details about the matter till we identify and fix the people and reform the process. Can we prevent such episodes from recurring? How often do we attempt a thoroughly preventive approach? To what extent is it possible to ascertain the truth of such matters?
Headlines across newspapers and magazines inform us of the many incidences of violence, war, thefts, social unrest and other socially unacceptable acts. With the advent of quick reporting through multi-media the impact on society is inescapable and strong. What is the writing on the wall? Can we read the writing? Can we delve deeper than just reading the headline?
Since I learnt about the Harvard educational scandal questions of many kinds have crossed my mind. One of the most pressing ones is rather queer! What would have been the response of any of the ancient Greek, Indian or Chinese wise men like Socrates, Lao Tsu or Buddha to a challenge like this? Would they look at the challenge as a problem to be solved and hence quickly institute a committee for understanding and dealing with it? How does a distinguished, respected and time tested university like Harvard respond to the challenge and how does it look at it?
Apart from initiating the investigation I am sure the university must be doing some penetrative and hard soul searching to understand many aspects of the issue. The incident is surely not isolated and sporadic if one looks at the essential nature of it. The question one could ask is why do we so easily resort to unethical practices? How do we, as an individual, institute, community, nation state or world at large respond to incidents or acts of irresponsibility, violence or unethical practises?
I think the response to such matters happens are at different levels. The administrative solution to the problem is followed up by identification of lapses in the system, processes or procedures, which will work towards preventing such problems from repeating. However, the most important aspect for the long term would be to identify the basic psychological reasons due to which such unethical practices creep into the minds of people. Examining the reasons why unethical practices creep into a system could be one approach, which can be figured out more easily. How does one investigate the reasons for the human mind to degenerate and decay to such unethical practice for such petty gains?
What is education if the mind has not been understood to understand the phenomenon of degeneration in ethics? Is this not a question which the wise educators will ask and work upon unceasingly? Are not the best and venerable institutions of the world like Harvard supposed to remember such questions at such trying times? Can we ask the basic and essential questions so that we attempt solutions of a lasting quality? Do we engage students of our higher institutes in meaningful and continuous discussions on matters of ethics, plagiarism and related issues to sensitise them. The discussions could be supported by guidelines, instructions, and statement of disciplinary action. The latter alone will surely fail in the long run. The former alone will surely be more effective in the long run. Both together, wisdom combined with pragmatic, may hold better promise for the present times.