Harvard suspends 60 cheaters

BOSTON - Harvard University has suspended about 60 students in a cheating scandal that involved the final exam in a class on the US Congress, drawing criticism from a high-profile alumnus.

The school implicated as many as 125 students in the scandal when officials first addressed the issue last year.

The inquiry started after a teaching assistant in a spring semester undergraduate government class detected problems in the take-home test, including that students may have shared answers.

The school said its academic integrity board had resolved all the cases related to the cheating probe.

Pedestrians shelter under an umbrella as snow falls in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (AFP Photo)

"Somewhat more than half" of the cases involved students who had to withdraw from the college for a period of time, said Michael Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, in a campus-wide e-mail on Friday.

The length of a the withdrawal periods was usually from two to four terms the school said.

Of the remaining cases, about half of the students got disciplinary probation. The rest were not disciplined.

Some athletes became ensnared, including two basketball team co-captains whom the school dropped from its team roster in the wake of the cheating investigation.

Past reports in The Harvard Crimson, the campus newspaper, also linked football, baseball and hockey players to the scandal.

Smith said in Friday's e-mail that the school wouldn't discuss specific student cases. He said a school committee is working on recommendations to strengthen a culture of academic honesty and promote ethics in scholarship.

"This is a time for communal reflection and action," he wrote. "We are responsible for creating the community in which our students study and we all thrive as scholars."

Thomas Stemberg, the founder of the Staples stationery store chain, a Harvard graduate whose son is a student, criticised the school's handling of the probe.

"If you challenge the entire faculty at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Law School to come up with a process that took more time, cost more money, embarrassed more innocent students, and vindicated guilty faculty ... that could not have outdone the process that took place," he said.

Stemberg, a supporter of Harvard's basketball team, knows some of the students caught up in the scandal and his son knows others.

He wrote a complaint letter to Harvard's president in early January claiming that the professor who taught the government class changed the rules after several exams in which "open collaboration" was encouraged.

He alleged that for the take-home exam in question, instructions to students said they couldn't collaborate with professors, teaching fellows "and others".

"If the message was so clearly expressed, why did some of the teaching fellows go over the exam in open session ... If they did not get the message, could one expect the students to understand it?"

Stemberg went on to say that while some students "went too far, literally cutting and pasting their answers," others only wrote answers from notes "derived in the collaborative atmosphere the class encouraged."

The class was known as "Introduction to Congress," and widely seen on campus as an easy way to get a good grade.

Harvard Undergraduate Council President Tara Raghuveer said the cheating investigation has been a hot topic on campus for months. She said some students started the new school year without knowing if they'd be allowed to finish it because of the long time the probe took.

The 20-year-old junior also said there were a lot of questions about whether the take-home exam's instructions were clear enough when it came to expectations about group work.

She said both students and professors were being careful to discuss collaboration policies now.

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Writer: The Associated Press