Being Honest About Lying (At Harvard and Everywhere Else)

My column today on Harvard’s cheating investigation. Co-authored with my husband, Nicholas Christakis:

Harvard‘s announcement last week of an investigation into a case of widespread cheating offered a little thrill of schadenfreude for some: confirmation, perhaps, that a venerable 376-year-old institution, whose motto Veritas means truth in Latin, could be caught up in the same pedestrian crimes and misdemeanors found at less lofty altitudes. According to reports in the Harvard Crimson, more than 100 students in a large undergraduate lecture class are alleged to have lifted material from shared study guides on a final take-home exam.

Moral indignation is an understandable response, and can have a role in all sorts of problems. But focusing on individual character flaws or moral failings obscures both the magnitude and the complexity of the problem of our national crisis of academic dishonesty. Cheating cuts to the very heart of academia, more so than it does other institutions that have faced similar wrongdoing, such as professional sports and the financial industry, because the search for truth is the primary mission of a university. Harvard’s public statement promised appropriate discipline for the wrongdoers and noted that the “vast majority” of students do their own work. Such circumstances – which are dismayingly common on college and high school campuses nationwide – often prompt institutions to re-assert community values in this way. But a broader kind of soul-searching is required.

Students have cheated for as long as there have been schools but, by any measure, academic dishonesty is on the rise. While detection methods and increased vigilance explain some of this increase, most experts believe the actual incidence of all forms of cheating have increased, too. For one thing, the technological ease of mashup culture makes it hard for students to recognize — or care — that they are appropriating the work of others. In fact, according to reporting in the New York Timessome of the Harvard students involved seemed to think that they didn’t really cheat, that there were special circumstances in the class, that the professor changed the rules, and so on.

Our experience at Harvard College, as House Masters of one of Harvard’s twelve undergraduate residential-academic communities, gives us a bird’s eye view of the pressures that can sometimes drive college students to temptation. We’ve observed two types of students who are especially vulnerable…

Continued at:



About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director/author. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
This entry was posted in Children/Teens/Young Adults, Erika @, Harvard-related and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Being Honest About Lying (At Harvard and Everywhere Else)

  1. I look at our whole society as a “cheating” society. Husbands “cheat” on wives. Wives “cheat’ on husbands. People “cheat” on their taxes. I think we have just become a society that wants the short cut and money and our own selfish way so bad and so fast we are now willing to cheat on just about anything. But, Momma taught me, “Winners never cheat and cheaters never win” so I try to avoid cheating at all costs. I was never tempted to cheat in grad school. I studied hard and made the grade. However, I am a royal cheater when I play Crazy 8’s with my adult Niece Andrea. I stack the deck while she is laughing. But, only after two Cranberry Vodka martinis. Or so I tell myself.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s