Harvard students made news recently when almost half of a class of 279 students were accused of cheating on a test. The fact that the cheating scandal involved Harvard is what made it news. There’s a synchronicity here in that the subject of the course involves an organization that most Americans consider dysfunctional and whose members are often caught cheating or lying – especially a lot of the latter. The name of the course: Introduction to Congress.
Only 12% of Americans think their congress is doing a good job. Contempt for congress is so widespread that 87% of Americans think every member running for re-election should be thrown out of office. Not much confidence there.
Let’s take 14-year congressman and vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. He’s well known for not only expressing a strong opinion, but distorting the facts to support it. Just recently he has even been caught in a lie about his personal life. When asked how fast he ran a marathon he entered years ago, he said it was in the neighborhood of 2 hours and fifty-some minutes.
First of all, if you break three hours in a marathon, you’re probably going to remember the exact time. I ran a 15 kilometer race in 66 minutes years ago at the Tampa Gasparilla Festival, and have never forgotten After all, it was the only 15-k race I ever ran, just as Paul Ryan’s marathon was the only marathon he ever ran. Runner’s World pressed Ryan about the time and after a couple of days of repeated questions, he conceded that he ran that race in about four hours.
It seems that the congressman has an uneasy relationship with the truth. His acceptance speech at the GOP convention has been called one of the most dishonest political speeches in recent U.S. political history. Click here for more details. When his campaign was asked about the inaccuracies, the response was that Ryan was not going to change the direction of his campaign because of a few fact checkers.
As for the Harvard students, they are facing ethical charges of “academic dishonesty, ranging from inappropriate collaboration to outright plagiarism, on a take-home final exam.” The exam was open book, open internet, but no collaborating with other students on the test.
One senior who’s under investigation, and who spoke to Salon only on condition of anonymity, said that the scandal was a crackdown on a course that has a reputation for being easy. The course had a “culture” in which collaboration was “fostered, encouraged, expected.” Students were encouraged to treat exams like “problem sets,” which the student understands to allow collaboration. “The bubble burst this year and we’re being scapegoated.”
Maybe it’s time for the American public to follow Harvard’s footsteps and scapegoat the culture of congress for the mess they’ve created by their members’ unwillingness to agree on anything, with possibly the exception of the naming of new post offices.
Bottom line: It’s not surprising that students might treat a class on congress with the same amount of respect that congress treats the American people.