Few universities have set more trends in American college sports than Harvard University. It is America’s oldest university, founded in 1636, and together with Princeton University launched America’s participation in the modern Olympics. Harvard was a charter member of the Massasoit Convention, which started college football as we know it today. Harvard joined seven other renowned colleges in 1954 to found the Ivy League, an intercollegiate sports program designed to promote amateur sports by banning athletic scholarships.
Today, the undergraduate institution, Harvard College, competes in forty-two varsity sports. Alumna Angela Ruggiero led America’s silver medal winning women’s ice hockey team and now represents the U.S. as a member of the International Olympic Committee. And Harvard Basketball star Jeremy Lin earns $25 million a year playing for the Houston Rockets and has become the most watched athlete in China, averaging 175 million viewers per game.
Last week, Harvard University officials announced their plans for disciplinary actions against participants in an unusually large cheating syndicate. Two basketball co-captains had to leave the varsity basketball team. The undergraduate student newspaper, the “Harvard Crimson” reported that football, baseball and hockey players were also caught cheating. The case details sound like a stand-up comedy routine. The cheating ring investigated was for students in the course "Introduction to Congress." Comics and political cynics might be inclined to see a cheating ring and stringent secrecy about its investigation as an educational extra-credit exercise to understand how the U.S. Congress operates.
As an alumnus of a Harvard graduate program, I know some relevant details that have not yet been reported. Harvard does not have a policy of denying admission or employment to students who have been severely disciplined for academic policy violations in the past. Two of my undergraduate classmates at Amherst College were severely disciplined in December 1977 and given 12 demerits, the maximum penalty before permanent expulsion. One was admitted to graduate school at Harvard and another was hired by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to help educate the government leaders of tomorrow, including former New York and Los Angeles police chief William Bratton.
For that matter, President Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law School, does not exclude severely disciplined students from employment; the severely disciplined student who worked at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government now reports directly to the U.S. Secretary of Education and has great influence over U.S. policy for academic discipline at all colleges and universities that receive federal grants. That is about 98% of all colleges and universities in the U.S. Is it any surprise that large cheating rings can emerge under this kind of leadership? Many people might question whether it is fair to punish these athletes and students for cheating when the federal government presents others who have done this as role models and senior education policy makers.
President Obama has also set a positive example which other alumni may choose to follow in the wake of this scandal and its costly expense. In 1991, he became one of the few alumni to run a sophisticated campaign for election to the Harvard University Board of Overseers.
An oral history report for Point Loma Nazarene University by an alumnus of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team shows that the stated reason of “student privacy” that Harvard’s administration gave for not disclosing the names of the students is controversial, at best. Jack Hamm explained to researchers that a Harvard administrator accompanied the 1968 U.S. Olympic team to Mexico City, assembled the Harvard students on the U.S. Olympic team and told them explicitly that if they participated in any student protests they would not just be expelled, but would also “not have a very nice life.” The practice was not unique; after the Iron Curtain came down, former athletes from the 1968 Czechoslovakian Olympic team revealed that they had been told essentially the same thing.
A detailed report about the academic cheating scandal and its impact on the Harvard basketball team is at this link. Do not expect to read much about this controversy on Google News or media that use it for reporting assignments. Google News has changed the time limit for submitting news stories for consideration from 72 hours to 48 hours. So news releases issued late on Fridays do not get a lot of attention in traditional editorial organizations, especially during the weekend of the Super Bowl.