Adam Wheeler, a former student at Harvard, was indicted this week on charges that he’d gained admission by forging his transcript and lying about having written several books on subjects that I’d never heard of until I read that he’d lied about having written books on them.
While what he did is obviously unspeakably evil, costing an institution with a $26 billion dollar endowment upwards of $45,000 in financial aid, which he probably used to pay for things like food and books and paying professors’ salaries, he is also rumored to have plagiarized some of his papers, throwing into complete disarray the world of Armenian poetry scholastics. While America’s disgust with this villain is surely well-intentioned, I wonder if it’s not disproportionate to the crime committed. But perhaps I’m biased.
I have, after all, pretended to be something I wasn’t thousands of times in my life. I’ve impersonated an educational user, a wet-nurse, a high-school basketball phenom, a Federal Boob Investigator, a conservative preacher’s baggage handler, a Verisign-authenticated website, an enormous human-shaped magazine for rich people that accepted cash for products advertised in me, a toilet, Waluigi, and a robot squid operated by Kim Jong-Il, for instance. But my impersonations, while not harmless, and occasionally explicitly treasonous, were not of the sort designed to give me an unfair and undeserved advantage in a depressed job market, as Mr. Wheeler’s were.
Perhaps that’s the source of people’s outrage – they lash out at him in fear that they might some day lose their jobs to someone with slightly more fraudulent credentials than their own. Which is fine, but maybe they should focus on getting mad at lies that actually hurt them instead of lies that throw into question the legitimacy of the study of classic Persian as a language, or the fact that this story is getting more ink than the one about millions and possibly of dollars being stolen from public funds by a cabal of the biggest banks in the country.