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Students Tamper with Grades in Cell Biology Course

By Sanjay Basu


A grade-tampering scandal in Cell Biology (7.06) was revealed by Professor Harvey F. Lodish of the Biology department last Thursday. Lodish announced to his course that unidentified students had broken into the course grader’s secure computer system and had lowered the grades of about 20 students while raising the grades of two others.

Although Lodish and co-instructor Professor Peter K. Sorger refused to comment further on the matter and did not reveal the names of suspected students, they did say that deans had identified the two students whose grades were raised and that disciplinary actions would be taken.

Lodish “pleaded for anybody who was responsible for this transgression or who knew who was to go talk to him at his office after class,” said Vinod Rao ’02, a student in the course. “He made it clear that the responsible parties would be punished either way, but suggested that a confession would be considered when determining the punishment.”

TAs for the course, who also refused to comment on the incident, re-collected course exams to re-enter scores into a new computer system.

The changes were apparently discovered when a few TAs began comparing hard copies of exams to the scores on their computer and found that some of the scores had been altered.

The computer system, according to Lodish, is “secure,” so course instructors are attempting to determine who had access to the computer’s password.

“MIT disciplinary actions are confidential,” said Dean of Students Rosalind H. Williams. The identities of the students involved, therefore, will not likely be disclosed.

Scandal is third recent incident

The 7.06 incident is the third to hit MIT in recent years.

The last major cheating incident here occurred in the spring of 1990, when nearly 80 students were accused of turning in duplicate code for their problem sets in Introduction to Computers and Engineering Problem Solving (1.00).

In October 1998, students in a Laboratory in Software Engineering course (6.170) were also warned about cheating by course instructors. An e-mail sent to students in that course said, “It’s ok to discuss how to solve problems with other students, but you must write your own code. It appears that some students did not follow this rule in problem set one.”

No students were subject to disciplinary action for that incident, although then Department Head Professor Paul L. Penfield Jr. ScD ‘60 reacted to the event by saying: “As a general rule, the amount of cheating is low ... The students here are here because they love [the work] and they enjoy it.”