Blindsided by Harvard's newfound prowess on the basketball court, one could almost forget its recent troubles. And then, this morning we hear of another cheating scandal.
A small cheating scandal, yes. But one that strikes at the very heart of what the university stands for: brainy kids who know a lot of trivia.
Before we get to that, a quick recap of the Crimson cheating tradition: In August, Harvard announced that it was investigating 125 students for cheating on a take-home final exam last year. Then, early last week, the Harvard administration admitted it had searched the e-mail accounts of 16 resident deans last fall. It was looking for the culprit who had leaked a confidential message about cheating sent by a dean.
One of the more controversial bits was the advice for athletes, who apparently made up as many as half of the accused students. The letter suggested that fall-term athletes might want to voluntarily withdraw before their first game of the season: "Once they compete one time their season counts and they would lose eligibility if they had to take a year off and return."
Coincidentally (or not? I blog, you speculate) two students who seemed to heed such advice were basketball team co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, who both withdrewfrom school in September. Yes, that is the same basketball team that emerged glorious last night.
And now we learn that another Harvard team -- this one a little more characteristically, well, Harvard -- has been stripped of four championship titles. Inside Higher Ed reported this morning: "National Academic Quiz Tournaments, LLC (NAQT) announced on Wednesday that it had recently reviewed server logs covering the past several years of tournaments; this review found that four team members from different teams, who were involved in the writing of questions for primarily middle and high school competitions, had improperly accessed information that could have included parts of questions used in the college competitions."
One of the named culprits was Andy Watkins, a member of Harvard's "A" team. Before college tournaments in 2009, 2010 and 2011, Watkins accessed "questions-by writer" and/or "category" pages, which meant that he had access to the first 40 characters of forthcoming questions. The NAQT says it "has neither direct nor statistical evidence that these writers took advantage of their prior access in game situations." Watkins, who had gone on to become a member of NAQT (he's been suspended), has issued a statement saying just how sorry he is and admitting, "It will surprise no one that my mental health as an undergraduate was always on the wrong side of 'unstable,' but that does not excuse my actions, nor does it ameliorate the damage done."
Let's be honest: This was just one troubled kid. Not 125 students. Not the administration of one of the most prestigious institutions in the world. But those basketball players would do well to be on their best behavior over the next few months. On the court, in class and yes, at the quiz bowl.
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Zara Kessler at firstname.lastname@example.org