Jason Lurie writes in yesterday's Crimson about an increase in the number of cases of student plagiarism coming before the Ad Board. While he rightly suggests that faculty members found guilty of having plagiarized should be punished, he attempts to blame them for the increase:

In each case, Harvard took no public (or as best as I can tell, private) action against any of the faculty offenders. Surely this apparent lack of concern about academic integrity on the part of Mother Harvard from its leaders and brightest stars has led some number of its students to countenance and commit plagiarism.

Hogwash. I highly doubt that any of the students involved in the 25 cases of plagiarism that went before the Ad Board last semester made the claim that since faculty plagiarized, they assumed that the practice was acceptable.

In high school, I was exposed to a number of cases of plagiarism as a member of the school's Honor Council. While a number of the cases involved simple misunderstandings, a large proportion of them involved students who knew that they had plagiarized, and seemed resigned to their punishment (which was harsher than if they had just submitted nothing for their assignment). Assuming that their plagiarism was not a mindless act, they must have assumed that the benefit of getting a good grade on the assignment would outweigh the relatively low risk of getting caught.

While punishing guilty faculty would be the right thing to do, it would probably not be a deterrent to undergraduate plagiarism. Either the University's faculty will have to become plagiarism hawks, which is unlikely, or the penalties for plagiarism will have to increase. Lurie, however, seems to suggest that "less pressure" is a better solution:

I am hardly surprised that incidences of academic dishonesty are on the rise just as the Class of 2005, the first class to be bludgeoned by the new honors system, prepares to enter the real world. Think of how much less pressure students would be under in a system that actually rewarded the very best instead of just de-honoring some thirty percent of the campus!

Or what about an abided-by ?Dean?s Date? after which no papers could be assigned or due? And how about administrators and faculty finally recognize that the current crop of students is the brightest and most rigorously selected group ever to grace Harvard?s halls and stop complaining about alleged grade inflation?

"De-honoring?" The very definition of the word "honor" tells us that honors are not a right, but a distinction. The idea that "thirty percent of the campus," almost a third of the entire class, is an integral part of the very best seems ludicrous. Members of the Class of 2005, if you feel "bludgeoned" by the honors system, please feel free to ignore it.

Lurie's claims of "alleged grade inflation" seem to be nothing more than a veiled proposal to, well, actually inflate grades. If one assumes that grades are not actually in a state of deflation, then any complaints and allegations are irrelevant, since grades are where they should be for a healthy academic economy. Regardless, if Harvard students are really not lazy grade-grubbers, the most important part of Harvard (regardless of any so-called administration pressure) will be learning and the academic experience, not the endless pressure of the hunt for higher grades.