Adam Wheeler Went to Harvard: A Tale of Fraud and a University Duped
In December 23, 2011, the dons of Harvard University finally got to see Adam Wheeler sentenced to a year in prison. Wheeler, a twenty-five-year-old whom they admitted in 2007 on the strength of an academic record he’d fabricated out of thin air, had been caught again—and this was not something a young gentleman does to America’s most highly self-regarded institution of advanced credentialing.
A few months earlier, Wheeler had submitted a résumé to U.S. Green Data Inc., on which he said he had attended Harvard. Technically, this was true; he’d been one year short of graduating when someone at the school belatedly noticed he had falsified the credentials that won him admission, and that he had plagiarized the papers that won him scholarships and prestigious awards. But the ten-year probationary punishment that the Middlesex County Superior Court had meted out upon the discovery of his fabulism forbade him ever from claiming he had attended the school, and the new offending résumé landed on the desk of a Harvard alum, who forwarded it to a dean, who turned it over to the district attorney’s office. And Adam Wheeler, who attended Harvard and who had been forced by the Court to lie about his having attended Harvard, was packed off to jail for lying about his having attending Harvard. The school of George W. Bush and Henry Kissinger (the war criminal who was feted on campus this spring as a conquering hero) took all appropriate measures to ensure that its name would never be sullied by associating with an immoral, egomaniacal charlatan, at least one who never held high office. And all the useful knowledge that Wheeler picked up in more than two years of classes was no longer something from which he could draw on to contribute to society.
College credential fraud may seem like a nitpicking offense for throwing a nonviolent offender into the overcrowded prison system for a tour of the seasons. But Wheeler embarrassed Harvard; his puncture of arbitrary power was so trifling that, paradoxically, it couldn’t be ignored. Harvard officials had little choice but to make an example of him through an aggressive, custom-tailored prosecution whose real aim was to restore the correct order of things. Adam Wheeler, after all, is merely a mediocre public school graduate from Delaware. But Harvard—well, everyone knows that Harvard shines across the fair land as a beacon of meritocratic upward mobility universally accessible to a nationwide corps of upper-middle-class teenagers of arbitrary intellectual ability.
Take a look at the victim impact statement Harvard presented to the Court in 2010, and notice how the country’s mightiest and richest institution of enlightened learning asks for the maximum punishment to be inflicted upon a lying schoolboy. The victim wanted to send a message to the entire world that fraud on campus will not be tolerated, no ifs, ands, or buts about it: