Staples Founder Rips Harvard Over Handling of Cheating Scandal

Monday, 28 Jan 2013 03:58 PM

By Bill Hoffmann

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One of Harvard University’s richest and most prestigious graduates says the Ivy League school damaged its reputation with the inept “Orwellian’’ handling of last year’s notorious student cheating scandal.

In a scathing letter to University President Drew Faust, Thomas Stemberg — who founded Staples and is one of the Harvard Crimson basketball team’s biggest supporters — wrote:

“Over 40 years as a student, an alumnus, and Harvard parent, I have never seen the need to write a letter of complaint. However, the University’s approach to and handling of the so-called ‘Congress’ cheating scandal compels me to write one.”

Last August, Harvard launched an investigation into 125 students who allegedly cheated on the final exam of a class called “Government 1310: Introduction to Congress.’’

It announced last week that the results of the case would be made public around the start of the spring semester.

The letter — a copy of which was obtained by the student newspaper The Harvard Crimson, which published a story about it — comes in the wake of the withdrawal from Harvard by star basketball players Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry.

The team co-captains, who had NCAA tournament prospects, decided to leave to minimize NCAA eligibility penalties over any possible disciplinary actions resulting from the scandal.

Stemberg said while some students involved “clearly went too far, literally cutting and pasting their answers,” others “did no more than write answers from notes that were derived in the collaborative atmosphere the class encouraged.”

But the university punished all of the same way, he wrote, dragging them “through a seemingly endless judicial process’’ that “damag[ed] the educational experience and the reputation of scores of innocent students.

“As an alumnus, how can one come to any conclusion other than the University has a bloated bureaucracy so intent on being politically correct, that its students and its mission are forgotten?”

Stemberg is one of Harvard’s most influential supporters. A graduate with degrees from Harvard and Harvard Business School, he started Staples in 1986 with backing from private equity firms including Bain Capital, whose co-founder was Mitt Romney.

Harvard officials had no comment on the letter, the Crimson said.

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