Apparently, Harvard isn’t alone in its recent tradition of academic dishonesty. Over the past few weeks, the English department at Barnard has also faced a major cheating scandal. The wildly popular Major English Texts II class, in which 123 students are enrolled, is currently under review by the registrar and dean after several students reported widespread cheating across the lecture.
Students allegedly passed answers back and forth and confirmed responses on their phones during regular reading quizzes, which consisted of basic poem identifications. Without a TA to help her grade the work of such a large class, Senior Lecturer Peggy Ellsberg, who is teaching the course this spring and has been at Barnard for over 20 years, allowed her students to self-grade. Ellsberg became suspicious of cheating after the majority of the class was consistently receiving 90+ percent on their quizzes. All quizzes, many with nearly identically-marked answers, are now being held by Barnard as “evidence.”
Ellsberg was allegedly given a choice as to whether she wanted to subject her entire class to a formal academic investigation, which could potentially end in expulsion. According to students in the class, no students have yet been expelled but Ellsberg did call for witnesses and confessions during class, emphasizing that anyone who came clean would avoid expulsion but receive a zero in the course. The Barnard administration has not interfaced with the class directly, either through email or in person; thus far, all potential consequences for the cheating incident have been relayed through Ellsberg. The class will be capped at 40 students next semester and will likely not feature reading quizzes.
Grades for Major English Texts II, a notoriously easy class, were calculated solely based on a single 2-3 page paper and the weekly quizzes. In an attempt to balance the class’ grades, Ellsberg eliminated all quiz scores from the grade book and added a final exam, worth 70% of each student’s final grade.
The class will now be subject to a blue book final tomorrow at 9 am with extravagant anti-cheating measures, like splitting students into several rooms and having the exam proctored by multiple administrative members. Additionally, Barnard is bringing in “the fuzz,” as Ellsberg called them, to keep an eye on any would-be delinquents.
Ellsberg and the Barnard administration have yet to comment on this incident publicly and had not responded to our requests for comment at the time of publishing. We will update you as we learn more.
Update, 6:26 p.m.: Ellsberg informed the class yesterday that the final will be proctored by admins, possibly including Dean Hinkson and Peter Platt, the chair of the English department. One of the rooms in which the final is scheduled to be held, Held Auditorium, currently has multiple video surveillance warnings taped to its exterior, though that’s not necessarily related to the final.
Update, 10:30 pm: A statement from Hilary Link, Barnard Vice Provost and Chair of the Committee on Instruction:
The College takes all allegations of cheating seriously. In this particular situation, college procedure was followed in that the professor, in consultation with relevant committees and her department chair, discounted quizzes because of a serious concern that academic integrity may have been compromised. In accordance with college policy, the professor supplemented the course assessment with a final exam. To date, no Barnard students have been identified as having cheated.