Former Bowdoin student Adam Wheeler plead guilty to "larceny, identity theft, falsifying an endorsement and pretending to hold a degree," according to a December 16 press release from Middlesex District (Mass.) Attorney Gerry Leone. Wheeler's deceitful actions in applying to Harvard University and subsequent academic dishonesty while a student at the school have gained national notoriety.
Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Scott Hood reported that Wheeler matriculated at the College in the fall of 2005 and left at the end of the spring semester in 2007. Wheeler was suspended from Bowdoin for academic dishonesty after submitting a plagiarized essay in one of his classes.
The 2006-2007 Judicial Board Annual Report states that eight students were suspended for "charges of inadequate citation, plagiarism, or submission of work not a student's own original effort," during that academic year. Whether Wheeler was one of the eight students whose case was brought to the board, however, is unconfirmed.
"We were informed in January 2009 that he had enrolled at Harvard," said Hood. "Once we got that information, he had therefore resigned from the College."
"Normally, what would happen is that at the end of the suspension we would inquire as to whether he was to re-enroll," said Hood. "I gather that at that time he was making other plans."
Rather than begin the process for readmission to the College, Wheeler forged transcripts from Phillips Andover Academy and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and enrolled as a transfer student at Harvard University in the fall of 2007.
In his two years at Harvard, Wheeler amassed $45,806.00 in grants and awards for plagiarized work, and was only stopped in the spring of his senior year at Harvard when a professor reading Wheeler's Rhodes scholarship application recognized that Wheeler had taken credit for the work of another Harvard professor.
Middlesex Superior Court Judge Diane Kottmyer sentenced Wheeler to serve 30 days in the House of Correction and 10 years probation. He must also repay in full the $45,806.00 to Harvard University. Wheeler is to stay away from Harvard University and Phillips Academy and is forbidden from presenting himself as a graduate of either institution.
Wheeler's attorney Steven Sussman reported that the terms of Wheeler's probation also stipulate that he is forbidden to profit from the events of his indictment.
"He couldn't sell the story," Sussman said.
Sussman added that "what happened at Bowdoin was not an issue in the case, other than the fact that he was under suspension."
The Boston Globe reported that while at Bowdoin, Wheeler "reveled in the elevated status" that he received after winning a poetry prize in the English department in 2006. Wheeler shared the Nathalie Walker Llewellyn Poetry Prize with friend Nick Von Keller '07. Wheeler submitted a plagiarized poem to the competition, which the department later found was none other than Paul Muldoon's "The Poem." His award has since been revoked.
Von Keller told the Boston Globe that Wheeler "was smart. It just didn't seem he was as smart as he wanted to be." Von Keller declined to comment for this article.
Nat Herz '09 lived in Osher Hall with Wheeler during the 2005-2006 academic year and was also a fellow member of the frisbee team.
"He was a quiet guy who was definitely very intelligent," said Herz.
"He was definitely a weird guy, but you never really got the sense that he had any real problems," Herz added.
A friend of Wheeler's, Nick Dunn '09, told the New York Post that Wheeler was "disingenuous with people for a while," and added that Wheeler had "bragged" about having attended the University of Chicago.
"My impression was that he was going to UChicago to study poetry," said Herz.
It seems that while enrolled at Bowdoin, Wheeler began weaving together an intricate set of lies that would allow him to fake his way into Harvard University. In his application to Harvard, Wheeler claimed to be a first year MIT student, even though his alumni interview was conducted on the Bowdoin campus. Wheeler told his Harvard interviewer that he was working as a professor's assistant at the College.
The Guardian reported that following his guilty plea, Wheeler said, "I'm ashamed and embarrassed by what I've done...As much as possible, I want to put this behind me and move forward."
According to the Harvard Crimson, Wheeler is currently working for minimum wage at a non-profit organization.