After spending more than three years in the English department at Harvard University, Adam Wheeler was found out. He had been expelled from my alma mater, Bowdoin College, in 2005 during his freshman year. Wheeler now, days before graduation, has been arrested for “20 indictments charging him with larceny, identity fraud and falsifying documents,” according to the Boston Herald.
While Wheeler is facing legal trouble, Harvard has its reputation at risk. The brief Herald story points out the gigantic holes through which this Bowdoin reject was able to matriculate: Wheeler claimed to have attended the elite boarding school Phillips Academy and then the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard’s math and science rival located a few miles down the Charles River. Unlike Wheeler, however, it appears that the Harvard and MIT admissions offices do not compare notes. He had never attended MIT — or Phillips, for that matter.
It’s easy to look back in retrospect and find the mistakes Harvard made. (Like for instance believing that anyone with an interest in majoring in English would go to MIT.) But what’s more interesting is what this says about the most prestigious university in the world. A Bowdoin student who was expelled for “academic dishonesty” was reportedly able to earn mostly A’s and B’s for two years before hubris — applications for Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships — brought unnecessary attention to his academic record.
Did Wheeler, as he had done before and tried to do again, cheat to earn his high marks at Harvard? Or is the grade inflation so rampant there that a student who was expelled at Bowdoin trying to cheat his way into a better grade was nearly able to coast his way to a diploma? Harvard would do well to address these questions as soon as possible to reduce the risk of putting the university’s academic credentials in question. (Imagine the quandary facing the admissions office at whatever school Wheeler attempts to finish his degree: By rejecting course credits from a known cheater, they are also rejecting the academic training provided at America’s oldest university.)
Another interesting note from this story: Wheeler’s being charged with stealing what the Herald referred to as “$46,000 in competitive financial aid.” That sum might seem substantial, but it wouldn’t pay for even a single year of tuition at Harvard. At the very least, his parents — or trustfund managers, or whomever controls the Wheeler family purse strings — were also in on this brazen scheme.
Despite the embarrassing mug shot, Wheeler and his conspirators had an impressive run. If anyone should be ashamed at this point, it’s Harvard.
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UPDATE: There’s no shame shared by The New Republic today. The magazine saw through Wheeler’s lies and recently turned him down for a literary internship. TNR has now posted the resume he used to apply. Fascinating stuff. Clearly, a great deal of it was made up–no one could do all the things he listed and still find time to eat and sleep–but what’s more interesting to consider is just how much of it is actually true.