While not life-threatening, the letters did contain an unpleasant surprise—news that the College had rescinded a prestigious academic prize.
The College mailed the letter to 57 sophomores who thought they had won the Detur Prize, an award granted for first-year academic achievement.
Award-winners are notified in August, and upon returning to campus can select one book valued up to $35 from The Coop as a prize. The front cover of the book is embossed with the Detur and Harvard seals and the inside cover is adorned with a personalized Detur Prize bookplate.
This year, about 200 students received the prize—slightly more than 10 percent of the sophomore class—but award letters went out to more than 250.
Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 said the mistake was “a simple matter” due to a “data error.”
“Several lists were generated and the wrong list was selected,” he said.
Though obliged to correct the error, Illingworth said he would allow the 57 students to keep the book they chose.
“I’m very sorry about any inconvenience that it caused,” he said.
Students whose awards were rescinded tended to be disappointed, but said they understood the mistake.
Amy E. Keel ’03 said she was “very disappointed” when she found out she would not receive the prize.
“[It was] upsetting to miss the cut-off by so little,” she said.
“I was very amused when I first read the recension letter,” said Christopher E. Rhodes ’03. Rhodes said he was slightly disappointed, but felt that the mistake was a “screw-up that is more funny than anything else.”
“But I do feel very bad for others,” Rhodes added.
Detur Prize books were first purchased in 1637 using money given to Harvard College by Edward Hopkins.
In their current incarnation, the books are presented to the sophomore winners by Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 during a ceremony in December.