29 June 2017 – Conning Harvard by Julie Zauzmer

  • Conning Harvard – Adam Wheeler, The Con Artist Who Faked His Way Into the Ivy League 
  • by Julie Zauzmer
  • Lyons Press
  • Copyright 2012
  • 194 pages

Rating – 8 out of 10

Thursday I had trouble generating any enthusiasm for Hancock and Algozzine’s Doing Case Study Research. So, I decided to be promiscuous in my reading and enjoy Conning Harvard by Julie Zauzmer. I’ll get back to Hancock and Algozzine (he told himself).

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Front cover

Adam Wheeler

Back in 2005, Adam Wheeler was a high school senior in Delaware. His grades and standardized test scores were good, but not extraordinary. By submitting a series of plagiarized essays, Wheeler gained admittance to Maine’s Bowdoin College. At Bowdoin, Wheeler did reasonably well – until he got caught plagiarizing a paper in his second year. Bowdoin showed Wheeler a degree of mercy, suspending him for a semester, but with the understanding that he could then return to school.

On to Harvard

Now we arrive at the crux of the story. Wheeler created a fake transcript (from MIT) and fake test scores and managed to con his way into Harvard as a transfer student. Clearly, this was the turning point in his life. From that point forward, Wheeler’s life became a charade as he plagiarized his way through his classes, lied to get summer scholarships, and attempted to become a Rhodes Scholar. He almost made it – having gotten a place on Harvard’s short list of Rhodes candidates when he got caught.

Wheeler amazes the reader with his ability to cheat his way through Harvard. He conned a lot of people who should have known better. Wheeler is so brazen, so thoroughly dishonest, that the reader cheers when he finally gets caught. Wheeler’s reactions to getting caught and then charged with several felonies are also revealing. It’s a fascinating story.

But, in another sense, Conning Harvard frustrates the reader. Wheeler never gave an interview explaining himself, so much is unknown. As a result, he never emerges as a flesh-and-blood person in Conning Harvard. You want to know more.

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Back cover

Though Conning Harvard is a success, there are other areas for improvement. In places, Zauzmer bogs the story with extraneous details, particularly about Harvard’s admission process. Likewise, the book’s flow – its momentum – comes and goes (though it’s a nice, quick read at 194 pages).

“Why are we so persuaded that some institutions carry such cachet that we’ll do anything to put their names after ours?” (P. 167)

Why, indeed? In the future, I’m convinced that people will be puzzled by our current obsession with admissions to prestigious universities. After all, as many people have pointed out, our society doesn’t particularly value education. The best students are geeks and nerds. A “professional student” is one who hangs around campus too long, who doesn’t want to grow up and get to work. People who say that they prize “education,” generally mean “credentials.”

Adam Wheeler’s story is a symptom of our strange fascination with the right credentials. Conning Harvard has some shortcomings; chief among them is a lack of insight into Wheeler. Still, it’s a terrific book that offers the reader great food for thought.

 

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About mobilemojoman

I have been a Mobile resident for about a decade. Working as a college professor keeps me off the streets and pays the bills. I am married to a woman (the MojoWoman) who is a much better person than I am and we have two beautiful girls who keep us both jumping. My interests are varied - food & drink, sports, politics, exercise, books, travel, Mardi Gras, and all of life's rich pageant. In the future, I'd like to learn more about sailing, photography, Cajun/Creole cooking, making beer and wine, and writing.
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2 Responses to 29 June 2017 – Conning Harvard by Julie Zauzmer

  1. Harry Miller says:

    What were Wheeler’s reactions to getting caught?

  2. Spoiler Alert – you might not want to read it if you are thinking of reading the book. Here goes –

    1) His reaction to getting thrown out of Harvard was to do the same thing again. He applied to Brown, Yale, and Stanford. Stanford admitted him.
    2) His reaction after his guilty plea is a bit more complicated. Harvard erased his record as a student. When Wheeler got probation, one of the stipulations was that he couldn’t ever represent himself as a having been at Harvard. Well, he applied for an unpaid internship and did just that. So, he went back to court for violating probation.

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