By Ken Reed

Harvard University is investigating the possibility that nearly half the students in a Introduction to Congress course had committed “academic dishonesty” on a take-home final last spring, either by collaborating on the test with other students — despite explicit instructions from the instructor not to — or plagiarizing answers outright. Several of the students involved are reported to be varsity athletes at Harvard.

According to a New York Times article written by Richard Perez-Pena, “The course had a reputation for easy grading and little required effort, so it had a large contingent of student athletes looking to make room for their time commitment to sports, according to the students.”

The Introduction to Congress course had 279 students and well over 100 are under suspicion for cheating on the final. That would make this scandal Harvard’s largest case of cheating in memory, according to Perez-Pena. The students could face possible suspension from the school for a year if found guilty of academic dishonesty. As such, some of the suspected students have decided to take a leave of absence from the school rather than face possible suspension for a year. A Sports Illustrated report said that one of the students taking a leave of absence was Kyle Casey, a star basketball player for Harvard.

Harvard has been accused of loosening academic standards for star athletes in recent years. In particular, the Harvard basketball program under current head coach Tommy Amaker, a long-time assistant coach at Duke University, has been suspected of admitting athletes that wouldn’t qualify under standards for the rest of the student body. Amaker and Harvard officials deny the allegations but Pete Thamel, the writer who claimed Harvard lowered its academic standards for basketball players when Amaker arrived on campus sticks by his New York Times story:

“Harvard can play semantic gymnastics, but it was laid out to me convincingly and on the record that they were lowering standards,” according to Thamel. “And they’ve only made it worse by denying it. The point of those Harvard stories was that Harvard is playing ball like everyone else — loosening academic standards, sending an assistant out on unethical recruiting trips, and cutting recruited kids from the program in September without having them try out.”

Harvard’s not alone in terms of being accused of cutting standards for athletes in the Ivy League. Penn has long been charged with having an unfair advantage because of purported lower academic standards, and virtually all of the other Ivies have had similar accusations tossed their way at one time or another.

Amaker took Harvard to its first Ivy League title and NCAA tournament appearance. So, from one perspective, Harvard’s Amaker Experiment has paid off. But at what price?

To be sure, the win-at-all-costs mentality exists in the Ivy League, just as it does in all the big-time conferences. The question is to what degree.

It certainly isn’t safe any longer to point to the Ivy League as an example of college athletics done correctly.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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