Concerns linger after ‘final’ Harvard cheating scandal announcement

By Michelle Denise L. Ferreol and Jared T. Lucky

As Harvard sought to bookend its massive cheating investigation with an announcement last Friday, students implicated in the scandal said the new information raised more questions than it answered.

On Friday morning, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith sent an email to the Harvard community to offer what he called “a few final, general words” on the academic integrity investigation that has rocked Harvard’s campus for the past five months.

Smith’s email concerned the Administrative Board’s investigation of about 125 students in last spring’s Government 1310: “Introduction to Congress” who were accused of cheating on the class’s take-home final. He was writing, he said, “to shine a bright light on the important issue of academic integrity and what we are doing on this issue.”

In his announcement, Smith reported that more than half of the implicated students—a figure that translates to approximately 70 undergraduates—were forced to temporarily withdraw from the College following the Ad Board’s investigation. Smith wrote that of the remaining investigated students, half received probation, while the other half received no punishment.

Even so the email did not name the class and provided no precise numbers about how many students were disciplined.

One investigated student, whose case resulted in probation, said he was disappointed by the contents of Smith’s message.

“I think that it was a bunch of fluff, had absolutely no significant content, and trivialized how unfairly every student involved was treated,” said the student, who was granted anonymity by The Crimson because he was worried about retaliation from administrators.

Smith provided the details about the distribution of punishments nearly 800 words into his email, following a lengthy explanation of the general purpose and procedures of the Ad Board. Some students said they did not immediately realize Smith’s email concerned the cheating scandal.

“I didn’t even read all the way through the email because I thought it was just another administrative announcement,” said Emily J. Reese ’14, who took Government 1310 last spring and was not investigated by the Ad Board. “I deleted it right away.”

Several accused students said the email also failed to address lingering questions about the scandal, the way it was handled, and what criteria were used to reach their decisions.

The father of a varsity athlete implicated in the scandal said he was frustrated that the email did not acknowledge the mistakes that he believes Harvard made over the course of the investigation.

“I find the whole letter insulting and offensive,” said the man, whose son lost NCAA eligibility after he was forced to withdraw late in the fall term. “There’s been no acknowledgment of [Harvard’s] responsibility.”

In his email, Smith wrote that due to the “unprecedented number and complexity of cases,” some students did not receive their verdicts until December, more than three months after the investigation was announced.

Delays in the investigation also caused concern among implicated students about tuition payments. According to the student handbook, students who withdrew from the College for any reason this past fall were required to pay tuition in increasing increments up to $18,788 after the Sept. 11 study card day. But to “create greater financial equity” for students who received their decisions later than others, Smith announced in his email Friday that anyone who was asked to withdraw after Sept. 30 would be issued refunds for all tuition paid past that date.

The father of the accused varsity athlete, as well as another implicated student, said that while they appreciated Harvard’s gesture, they questioned its timing, saying that the move seemed like a last-minute public relations effort.

The latter student, who was notified in late August that his case would go before the Ad Board, said Smith’s email came too late for him. Last fall, he decided to withdraw even before his case was heard so that he would not be a financial burden on his family.

“I had to make a hard decision with my family and withdraw, which included implicitly admitting to something I did not do, because I couldn’t be sure when my case was going to be heard,” he said. “My biggest consideration in terms of withdrawing was the tuition increase.”

That student said he was dismayed when he learned of Smith’s email, which was sent to the Harvard community around 11 a.m. Friday morning. He had been notified of Harvard’s decision to reimburse his tuition earlier that morning, just hours before Smith sent his message to the Harvard community, according to a copy of the student’s letter obtained by The Crimson.

In an emailed statement, Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Jeff Neal declined to comment on when Harvard made its decision to partially refund tuition for students who were required to withdraw.

“Communications about tuition, fees and financial aid are between the College and students and their families,” he wrote.

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