Teaching Unethical Behavior at Harvard–is the sky falling?
Most of us are not crooks or evil persons yet we can promote, quite easily unwittingly, unethical behavior. Say what? Yes, good people gone wrong. This seems to be one of the object lessons emerging out of the Harvard student cheating scandal. An investigation is underway to determine whether or not as many as 125 undergraduate students enrolled in a course on the American Congress might have worked in groups on a take-home final exam despite being explicitly required to work alone.
Woe is me! Why in the world would an instructor assign a take-home exam and then expect students to not collaborate? As a professor, I assigned take-home exams from time to time but I never once demanded that students not collaborate. Why? To make such a demand is to “set up” students for ethical failure. Or, put differently, requiring students to not collaborate is an invitation for unethical behavior; I never thought it was right for me to put students in that kind of bind wherein they might learn to be unethical.
Of course, there is one school of thought that claims “ethical learning” can only be achieved by a real world ethically challenging situation. Ethics is learned through experience so it is asserted. Maybe so but as an instructor with responsibility to teach young people I always believed that one crossed over the line by creating an experiential situation that could result in learning unethical behavior.
Is it not so?