I wasn’t surprised to learn that they cheat at Harvard. I actually was surprised that some of the cheating students are suing the university, claiming that their future job prospects would be jeopardized. Here’s the account from The Harvard Crimson.
The line that caught my eye was this one: “Harvard has created this war between the students and the fricking school, and this is a war that I am willing and very eager to fight.” Very bracing prose, I’m sure you’ll agree. It must have been a very satisfying thing to say to reporter, particularly after you have been granted anonymity.
But a few things tugged at the side of my mind as I read. One was that students who cheat are parasites and prominent among their several hosts is the students who don’t cheat. If there should be a war, it seems to me it ought to between the students who are having the value of their work diminished and the students who are diminishing it to benefit themselves. I think the advocates of “just war” theory could make a home in their hearts for that kind of war.
A second thing that tugged at my mind was that Harvard has “created this war.” They have done this, presumably, by prohibiting cheating and then by enforcing the prohibition. This seems unduly broad to me. Presumably there are, at Harvard, prohibitions against violent behavior toward others, against theft of university property, against other kinds of fraud including, I imagine, not paying your tuition. So let’s just test this statement by substitution one of those. “Harvard has created this war between the students and the fricking school by demanding that we pay for the courses we take here.” It’s the same position, but somehow it doesn’t have the same pop.
The third has to do with the damage done to the job prospects. It is true that many employers hire the “degree from Harvard,” rather than any particular skills a student might have, but that will last only as long as: a) most Harvard students actually have the skills they are supposed to have and b) there are no other schools whose graduates will reliably outperform Harvard students. In the first of those considerations, the student damages not only his own job prospects, but those of all graduates of Harvard.
Beyond that, though, it strikes me as bizarre that the student hold against Harvard the fact that future employers are likely to think this student is not such a good bet as an employee because he cheats. Employers will make their own judgments about the promise of potential employees. Students who have made themselves less desirable by cheating are in a very weak position, it seems to me, when they hold the university responsible for prohibiting cheating in the first place.
It makes you wonder if honest scholarship might not be better.
He “has cheated,” one of the lawyers said. These may be really solid students who have had one lapse in an academic career. But, of course, “one lapse” is enough to produce an unwanted pregnancy in other circumstances and that has been enough to made a product called Plan B popular. These students have not thought as far as Plan B.