B Chimp Yen has informed me about a mass cheating scandal at Harvard; see e.g. these sources. BBC and other outlets wouldn't tell you the name of the course.
However, good enough Internet users need approximately 1 minute to find out which course it was. Yes, it was "Introduction to Congress" (Government E-1310 23500) taught by Matthew Platt.
The minimum number of students in the course is 250. The actual number was slightly higher, 279. And 125 students, almost one-half of the class, apparently copied a take-home exam from the same source, despite an easily understandable explicit ban on this method of writing. With this degree of plagiarism, the author of the original text is almost as published as Shakespeare. ;-)
The tuition for this course is $1,045 for undergraduates and $2,000 for graduates.
If you interpret this Harvard course as a factory producing future U.S. Congressmen, U.S. Congresswomen, and other U.S. Congresspersons, you may easily estimate that about 1/2 of the members of the U.S. Congress at every moment are crooks.
I am not surprised by this discovery, especially in the case of undergrads. As I have understood them during the years I taught at that school, the typical Harvard undergraduates don't strikingly differ from average college students of the same age. Much of their above-the-average success in their later life is due to the Harvard degree itself (and contacts with similarly influential people they could establish), not due to their vastly greater skills. (When it comes to physics, you only start to see dramatically above-the-average skills if you look at the grad students which have passed a much stricter filter.) They're under more significant pressure to be excellent. And in some cases, "easy ways out" seem to be tolerated if not supported. And the students have ordinary human passions and hobbies much like other young people.
Well, I would bet that this mass plagiarism wasn't found by the instructor himself. Why? Simply because the students have to decide in advance whether it would be acceptable to copy the take-home exam. The personality of the instructor is the key piece of information in such decisions. If one-half of the students do such a thing, it shows that there is a widespread belief that the instructor would take it easy if he figured out what was going on.
[When I read some articles more carefully, I learned that the scandal was indeed found by a teaching assistant, not the instructor, in May.]
And yes, I just can't get rid of the feeling that the instructor is similar to Cornel West, another black professor who was a major source of grade inflation and pro-lazy-student populism at Harvard (aside from the rap music he helped to record). Recall that when ex-Harvard President Larry Summers dared to suggest that Cornel West should have focused on the quality of his scholarly activities, Cornel West got extremely pis*ed off, moved to Princeton, and continued his nuclear war against Larry Summers for years.
Update, August 2nd: The New York Times reveals that my guess was 100% correct. The cheating students said that Prof Platt has promised the students to give 120 A's away – and it was even OK not to attend the lectures and discussion sessions.In a graduate course allowing undergraduates that I have taught, two students decided to cheat in a simpler way than to copy things from a classmate. They just waited once my official homework solutions were posted on the web, then they copied them (and changed the notation only by so modest "mutations" that it was impossible that the similarity would be coincidental), and they submitted them with a lame excuse why they're just a little bit late. Those two students did it repeatedly – I forgot the exact number but they may have done it throughout most of the course.
Your humble correspondent and his teaching assistant easily found out what was going on, at least in these two cases, and we were unlucky: one of the students was a female undergraduate and one of them was an ethnic Indian male. (No, I really don't think an undergrad should get an A just because he or she dares to register for a grad course. He or she may try but the same rules must apply, otherwise such "brave acts" wouldn't be brave at all and they would really become tools to get easy credit and good grades for free.) My teaching assistant was actually the main driving force in our activities to make sure that these students would be punished. Not much happened at the end. I was just afraid to push for justice too much because it was already during (or after?) the anti-Summers politically correct witch hunts and I didn't want to multiply my problems – to experience even more accusations that I was a sexist, racist, and all these outrageous politically correct labels that make the Ivy League environment pretty much insufferable for honest conservatives.
Harvard – with its unregulated terror by the feminist sluts and the professional blacks – just didn't provide me with the basic needs that are necessary to do the teaching work well and I am a realist, not a person who excessively enjoys the fights against wind mills.
While our discovery of the cheating students was totally impartial, I am confident that the composition of students who do such things and instructors who tolerate it or indirectly support it isn't sex-blind or color-blind. I would love to see the detailed composition of the students registered for the course and those who cheated and their sex, ethnicity, race, and other information. I guess that we won't learn such things, will we?
Well, if I won't be told any cold hard data, I will continue to believe in the obvious hypothesis that the females and the students of color – aside from other would-be weak groups that are systematically given advantages by the suffocating politically correct racist and sexist atmosphere on the campuses – are probably significantly overrepresented among the students who have cheated and the race of the instructor isn't quite a coincidence, either. It has to be so simply because it's much harder to punish these groups that are vastly more protected by the "establishment" so they may afford to do many things that others can't. My own experience has taught me a lot about the inner workings of these asymmetries.
Needless to say, "black agenda in politics" is one of the instructor's three major "research topics" so I would dare to suggest that his being black is a significant contribution to the reasons why he's at Harvard faculty in the first place. And when it comes to the would-be tough statement by the current Harvard President, Drew Gilpin Faust, I think that her words are hypocritical, too. She hasn't done 5% of what Summers had done to fight similar trends.