“I was just someone who shared notes, and now I’m implicated in this.”
At least that is the way a Harvard undergraduate explains the cheating scandal that has recently rocked the school, and his own part in it. But if that is troubling in

its own way, even more troubling is the lead op-ed in the New York Times today, which professes “bewilderment” at Harvard over what cheating is, viz. “it appears that, after decades of debate, Harvard students are still unsure of what, exactly, ‘cheating’ means.”

Yes, now about that bridge in Brooklyn.

It reminds me of Hannah Arendt in Jerusalem in the early 1960s, writing a weekly report for The New Republic; her essays became “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.” The German genius of detail who was responsible for keeping the trains running on time, delivering their cargoes of human beings to Auschwitz, 15 years later he was captured in South America by the Israeli secret police, and put on trial in Jerusalem for his crimes against humanity.

He protested all the way to the gallows that he had never killed anyone. “I didn’t fire a gun. I was just following the law.” As incredibly impoverished as his self-knowledge was, Arendt was deeply troubled as well by the judges for the Jerusalem court who would not believe that Eichmann was telling the truth about his complicity; they assumed that he was lying. “How could someone do such evil? How it is possible that someone could know what was wrong, so very wrong, and choose to do it? He is not telling the truth.”

Arendt’s own Ph.D. work had been on St. Augustine and his understanding of love, which is more deeply his understanding of the human heart. My own best guess is that she knew more of the glory and ruin of the human condition than the Jerusalem judges, and was able to see the horror of Eichmann’s banality, the ordinariness of his capacity for evil, viz. his ability to know what was wrong, and still choose to do it.

Sort of like the Harvard students and their cheating. The sad reality is that “Veritas” still sells sweatshirts, but has little curricular consequence. Bewildered they are, burdened by the ambiguity of what cheating actually is, the students are not quite able to grasp that that someone could get all A’s, so deserving of all A’s as they are of course– and still flunk life.

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

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