In an unusual development, the same Harvard alum who has put Drew Faust on his payroll is now publicly criticizing the Harvard president and other university officials for their handling of the massive cheating scandal.
The Crimson reports that Staples founder Thomas G. Stemberg, class of ‘71, has written a letter to Faust, a couple deans and the Corporation members criticizing the university’s handling of the cheating scandal as “Orwellian.”
Since Stemberg could simply have picked up the phone and called Faust to say this, as she was cashing her six-figure Staples paycheck, the fact that he put it in writing and distributed the letter rather widely suggests he wanted to make his opinion public. Which also suggests that he’s the one who sent it to the Crimson.
(Stemberg seems to have a habit of writing angry letters. He once allegedly wrote to his 12-year-old son that “It will not be possible for you to be part of our family in the foreseeable future” because the boy, scion of the first of Stemberg’s three wives, had allegedly misbehaved during the divorce. There are two sides to every story, particularly in two messy divorces, but it doesn’t really sound like Stemberg is a great role model for any young person. Here’s a good backgrounder on how Stemberg got Mitt Romney to testify for him in court. Talk about Orwellian.)
Anyway: Stemberg’s gripe seems to be that some of the students involved really cheated, and some of them only kinda cheated, and Harvard is being mean to the latter group.
Stemberg classified the students embroiled in the scandal into two different categories: those who “clearly went too far, literally cutting and pasting their answers,” and those who “did no more than write answers from notes that were derived in the collaborative atmosphere the class encouraged.”
“Notes that were derived in the collaborative atmosphere”! That’s rich. “Derived” notes. Who comes up with this stuff? I bet it was in a collaborative atmosphere.
Stemberg knows that this is how things are because, as the Crimson puts it, “he personally knows” some of the students involved, and apparently has had lengthy conversations with them about whether they cheated or not.
Or maybe he knows it because he’s a wealthy donor who put the president of Harvard on his corporate board and can find out things that regular alums can not.
Oh, the plot thickens.
On one level, here you have a classic case of an alum who think it’s his right to butt in because a) he has put the university president on his payroll and b) he gives a lot of money to sports programs.
Stemberg is co-chair of “Friends of Harvard Basketball,” a group whose very existence raises some interesting issues, i.e., why does there need to be a group called Friends of Harvard Basketball?
Here is another co-chair of FOHB. I’m shocked, he’s a private equity guy who used to be the assistant to the founder of Boston Concessions Group, which of course is Joe O’Donnell, who has his hands in pretty much every Harvard pie.
Follow the money, follow the money, follow the money….
As Carmen Scarpa, the HOFB co-chair put it,
The project has paid off like a good investment, according to Carmen Scarpa, a partner at Boston-based private equity firm Tudor Ventures Group LLC and a reserve point guard from the class of 1986.
“We put some money behind a good management team and now we’re seeing the fruits of that,” said Scarpa, 46, who was on the committee that recruited [coach] Amaker.
So much time, effort and cash just to get five guys on a court playing basketball…
On the other hand, maybe Stemberg has a point. Maybe Harvard is handling the situation poorly. It’s hard to say without access to the same kind of information that he has. So we will keep an open mind on that.
But what do you want to bet that the kids he’s sticking up for just happen to be…basketball players?
And thus the stink of corruption settles onto a basketball program that once was happy being competitive in the Ivy League but now feels it has to go head-to-head with Duke, UNC, UNLV and so on.
Former Harvard College dean Harry Lewis is quoted by the Crimson as lamenting the fact that this episode hasn’t been used as a—what’s the expression?—teachable moment.
“I continue to be principally troubled that we’re not having, haven’t had yet, and there’s no indication that we’re going to have, a faculty conversation about how faculty conduct their courses,” he said.
While I respect Harry’s idealism, in addition to agreeing with him, I don’t think he should be surprised. This is not a conversation that would advantage many of the people affected by it.
But I also think that there’s another conversation that needs to be had—this one on the impact of big money and big-time sports at Harvard, as manifested in its basketball team.
And one thing that’s absolutely clear: Drew Faust is now compromised by her $300k a year paycheck from Staples, just as this blog predicted she would be.
To avoid any hint of conflict of interest, she should step down from that corporate board immediately. This is the biggest test of her presidency. The right thing to do is clear.