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Fake Rhodes Scholar caught out
A fraudulent student who been studying at Harvard for two years based on false credentials was discovered when he faked an applications for the Fulbright award and the Rhodes scholarship, an international postgraduate award for study at Oxford.
Adam Wheeler, aged 23, had been accepted as a transfer student to Harvard in 2007 on account of numerous A-grade transcripts which he presented from Phillips Academy Andover, an elite American boarding high school, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Wheeler studied at Harvard for two years before his fraudulent claims were discovered.
Following Wheeler's dubious application for the Rhodes Scholarship, it was found that he had forged the transcripts from MIT which had won him a place at Harvard. It was revealed that he had not attended the high school, nor MIT as he had previously claimed. Rather, he had graduated from Caesar Rodney High School in Delaware, an average state secondary school. He then spent two years at Bowdoin College in Maine, before being suspended for academic dishonesty.
Wheeler also claimed to speak five languages, including Old English, Classical Armenian, and Old Persian. He said he had given lectures at other elite American universities, and pretended to have a perfect score of 1600 on the SAT exam. In fact, he had sat the test twice and scored 1160 and 1220.
The student's fraud was discovered by an English professor who was reviewing Wheeler's Rhodes scholarship application. The professor suspected Wheeler of plagiarising part of the application, and although Wheeler claimed it was an error, the professor's suspicion led to a review of Wheeler's entire transfer application to Harvard. It was after this that Wheeler's false claims about his school and MIT became clear. In particular, it was noticed that Wheeler had submitted a A-grade transcript from MIT, despite the fact that MIT does not give letter grades to students during the autumn term of their first year.
When he realised the possibility of being discovered, Wheeler attempted to escape by completing new transfer applications to Yale and Brown, two other Ivy League universities. To do this, he forged yet more documents to attain admission, including a letter of recommendation from David Smith, the Academic Dean at Harvard who had first informed him of the plagiarism accusations concerning his Rhodes scholarship application.
Yale contacted his parents, who insisted that their son confessed his false academic record to Yale. It was due to their interference that he confessed. Wheeler chose to leave Harvard rather than face an academic hearing.
Meg Hauser, a student at Brown University, said, "This type of forgery in the course of college admissions, though usually not so extensive, is all too common. Admissions officers cannot physically check every component of an application; it is likely all too ordinary for graduating students to pad their resumes with false information."
Wheeler has subsequently been charged with 20 criminal counts at an arraignment at the Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn, Massachusetts. The counts included larceny, because he was awarded scholarships totalling nearly $50,000 from Harvard, and also identity fraud and pretending to hold a false degree. Wheeler pleaded not guilty.
The Rhodes Scholarship is one of the oldest and most prestigious international fellowships, which brings outstanding students from around the world to study at Oxford. The scholarship was initiated after the death of Cecil Rhodes in 1902, and the first American Scholars came to Oxford in 1904.
Students applying for Rhodes Scholarships apply through the Rhodes Trust's system, which has its own checks and procedures in place which are separate from those carried out by Oxford's graduate admissions office.
A spokesperson from the University Press Office said, "Those who make fraudulent applications would face severe action, up to and including expulsion. Oxford's Graduate Admissions and Funding Office (GAO) takes fraud very seriously, and has issued guidelines on detecting fraud in graduate applications to all departmental admissions bodies. There are procedures in place to deal with suspected cases of fraud."
The revelations about Wheeler's attempts to win a place at Oxford through faked documents come after a fresher at LMH was discovered as a fraud at the end of Michaelmas term of last year. The student, who won place at Oxford in 2009 to read Economics and Management, claimed to have graduated from school with at least 10 A grades at A level, and had also forged references from a teacher.
After this went unnoticed, the undergraduate admissions procedures at Oxford has had a shake up. Starting with applications for entry 2011, students who apply outside the UCAS system, as the LMH student did, will be required to produce their exam results as a condition of them getting an offer from Oxford.
The University stated, "Whilst it is impossible to eliminate the risk of fraudulent behaviour altogether, one of the aspects of Oxford which helps to minimise the risks of fraudulent behaviour going undetected is its intensive selection and teaching system. The selection system for undergraduates includes interviews and, for many subjects, aptitude tests, while the tutorial teaching system gives close supervision to demanding academic work."