Wednesday, May 19, 2010

How valuable is a Harvard administrator credential?

In an editorial Asleep in Admissions?, the Boston Globe states Admission officials at Harvard have a lot to explain to legitimate applicants. and ends Are the phones — and the admission office — in decent working order at Harvard?

As a general proposition, one might ask, is the credential of "administrator" at Harvard, something that is a plus, or, in view of the Wheeler affair, a minus? How about an administrator who has few publications? Perhaps the Senate will let us know.

The Boston Globe suggests that Wheeler's status of "transfer student" should have merited additional scrutiny:

The oversights are even more egregious because it is standard procedure in college admission offices to give extra scrutiny to transfer students.

However, at the New York Times, in an article titled Campuses Ensnared by ‘Life of Deception’, there is a suggestion that "transfer student" presents a loophole in admissions:

Mr. de Villafranca [of the Peddie School in Hightstown, NJ] said that Mr. Wheeler had likely exploited one potential loophole: because he applied to Harvard as a transfer student several years removed from high school, his school counselor — ostensibly at Phillips Andover — might not have been contacted by Harvard about his application.

Of course, Yale University, in response to a transfer request LATER in time, contacted Wheeler's real high school, Caesar Rodney in Delaware. The NYT article noted:

In recounting how the case came to light, Assistant District Attorney John Verner told the court of a phone call that Mr. Wheeler’s parents, Lee and Richard, received from Yale University this year.

By then, Mr. Wheeler had left Harvard, rather than face an academic hearing over accusations he had plagiarized the work of a Harvard professor in his application for a Rhodes Scholarship. He then applied as a transfer student yet again, this time to Yale and Brown.

After Yale contacted Mr. Wheeler’s parents, who were in court on Tuesday, to express doubts about the veracity of parts of his transfer application, they insisted that their son tell Yale the truth.

“Mr. Wheeler’s life of deception would not have stopped if it were not for his parents,” Mr. Verner said.

**By life of deception ending, one presumes one is talking about the charges brought by Mr. Verner. But, why were the charges brought in May 2010, rather than in 2009, when Harvard had figured out what had happened and booted Wheeler?

** The NYT article mentioned other cases:

Other prestigious colleges have seen similar cases before. Two years ago, Yale determined that a student who successfully transferred from Columbia had forged his transcript to give himself straight A’s. Connecticut authorities later charged him with larceny, over the $32,000 in scholarships he’d received.

In 1993, another man pleaded guilty to theft by deception in New Jersey, for obtaining $22,000 in financial aid from Princeton.

**In light of the the Wheeler case, and earlier cases, one can only wonder "what was Ben Stein thinking?"
Ben Stein's wrong on "not getting into college of your choice"

Earlier post:

Adam Wheeler dupes Harvard

From The Talented Mr. Ripley :

My memory might be hazy, but I thought they ask for an official sealed transcript sent from your school's registrar, not from you? If not, wouldn't there be some kind of follow-up with the registrar? I'm kind of surprised to read he submitted it himself and that was that. Of course the potential for fraud would be high.

***In a videoclip of Mike Taibbi on the Today Show, it is suggested that the "identity theft" charge arises from the plagiarism done by Wheeler.

Plagiarism is generally associated with copying the words of someone else without mentioning the person's name. Identity theft is more associated with pretending to be the person and taking the person's name. If a charge of "identity theft" can be leveled against people who copy without attribution, life will become interesting.

Alleged Harvard con-student faces judge

Ex-Harvard Student, Adam Wheeler, Pleads Not Guilty to Charges of Fabricating Academic History :

Wheeler's complex web of lies began to unravel when, as a senior at Harvard in September 2009, he submitted a resume, a Harvard transcript, and an essay to apply for the Rhodes and Fulbright Scholarships. During the application review process, English Professor W. James Simpson suspected that Wheeler had plagiarized the work of Professor Stephen Greenblatt, Verner said.


During the investigation, members of the faculty discovered that the student had forged two letters of recommendation submitted in his application packet for the Rhodes. His fake transcript reflected 36 A’s and one A minus over three years, but further investigation revealed that Wheeler had in reality received a D, a few B’s, and a few A’s in his time at Harvard, according to Verner.

Wheeler’s prompt departure moved investigators to examine his admissions application as a transfer student to Harvard. Wheeler had claimed to be a graduate of Phillips Academy in Andover and a freshman transfer student from MIT, producing transcripts from both institutions—neither of which he had attended, according to Verner.


Wheeler's plagiarized Hoopes-winning project, entitled "The Mapping of an Ideological Demesne: Space, Place, and Text From More to Marvell," was nominated by Suparna Roychoudhury, a teaching fellow in the English department. The published copy of Wheeler's work has been removed from Lamont, according to Harvard University Archives.

Note the discussion of the (legal) concept of demesne in Representing the English Renaissance By Stephen Jay Greenblatt.

**Some points on the Wheeler timeline, from the Middletown Transcript:

The defendant was indicted by a Middlesex Superior Court Grand Jury on May 6. The indictment was immediately sealed while the defendant was located.

On May 10, Delaware authorities located and arrested the defendant in Delaware. On May 17, Massachusetts authorities arrested Wheeler and he was rendited back to Massachusetts.

See also Harvard Crimson timeline on Wheeler matter

Of the fake SAT scores, the Crimson could find no ready explanation:

In an official statement, the College Board assured that all the score reports sent on Wheeler’s behalf were “accurate,” and that the College Board employs “rigorous security measures” to guarantee the authenticity of the official SAT score reports provided directly to each school by the Board.

“I just can’t wrap my head around that one, quite honestly,” Nassirian said about the fraudulent SAT report. “[Wheeler] took the most mechanical, most verifiable components of the application package and put fake ones in their place, and managed to get past the very robust mechanisms that must be in place.”

The Crimson alluded to the earlier Princeton fraud:

In 1991, 31-year-old James A. Hogue—who gained admission to Princeton by posing under the alias Alexi Indris Santana, a orphan from Utah—was convicted of stealing $22,000 from the University. While awaiting sentencing, he enrolled as a Harvard Extension School student and stole $50,000 in minerals and gems from the Harvard Mineralogical Museum.


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