A Harvard Extension School student falsely assumed the identity of an undergraduate, a counselor at the Bureau of Study Counsel (BSC) discovered on Nov. 30.
An individual matching the imposter’s physical description also rushed Sigma Chi, an off-campus fraternity, and attempted to run for secretary of the Harvard Republican Club (HRC), according to members of both organizations. Because only administrative—not criminal—action will be taken against the imposter, Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) spokesperson Steven G. Catalano said the department would not release his name.
Christopher Queen, dean of students for continuing education, said he could not comment on the specific disciplinary action that will be taken against the student, but said that “the charge of misrepresentation is taken very seriously by the [Extension School’s Administrative] Board. Appropriate sanctions may include indefinite suspension from the Extension School.”
Craig F. Rodgers, a post-doctoral fellow and a BSC counselor, said he became suspicious when the contact information the student left belonged to another person.
“I got pretty concerned when [he] had accurate personal information [about the undergraduate]—enough to be disturbing,” said Rodgers, who kept the police on standby on Nov. 30, the day of the student’s appointment at the BSC, because of his suspicions.
A counselor at the BSC said that while police were confirming the student’s identity, the individual “fled the building through a window and descended three flights down an outdoor metal fire escape.”
Police detained the student as he attempted to leave the BSC, the counselor said.
Catalano said police interviewed but did not arrest the student.
A first-year said that the BSC and HUPD contacted him because the Extension School student used his name when the BSC counselor asked for the name of his roommate.
BSC Director Charles P. Ducey said that while BSC academic services are available to Extension School students who are undergraduate degree candidates, the suspect was not an undergraduate degree candidate and was therefore ineligible to receive BSC services.
“He was seeking help, but it was just not the right way to get it,” Ducey said.
While BSC services are protected by confidentiality, Ducey and Rodgers spoke publicly about theation—but not the private issues of the student, which remain confidential—because of concerns for other students’ safety, they said.
“We can’t take for granted who knows our information, like our ID number. If someone has your ID number and is convincing, there is a potential to get away with a lot,” Rodgers said.
The same individual had conducted “misrepresentation to a lesser extent” at the BSC in the past, Rodgers and Ducey said. They declined to comment further.
According to several Harvard undergraduates, an individual used false identification at places besides the BSC.
A current Republican Club officer said an individual, posing as a transfer student from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, first approached him at the Republicans’ table at the first-year activities fair in early September and inquired about final clubs.
The officer and Brian C. Grech ’03, president-elect of the HRC, said the same student signed up to run for secretary of the group under the name Philip A. Shaw, but that he withdrew his name on Dec. 4, the day before the elections.
There is no Philip Shaw enrolled in the College, according to the registrar’s office.
The HRC officer said members became suspicious of the individual’s identity after hearing about the BSC incident and “were preparing to confront him with evidence that he was not an undergraduate,” but he withdrew his name before they had a chance.
“He exposed a major loophole in the Harvard system for security and as a UC member, that concerns me,” Grech said. “I was very shaken up, because this is an issue not only of personal safety, but of campus safety.”
In his biography, e-mailed to HRC members, “Shaw” claimed he was a former treasurer of the North Carolina Federation of College Republicans (NCFCR), a former intern for the Bush campaign and an affiliate of Currier House.
While the NCFCR website lists a Philip A. Shaw as its treasurer, nobody at Harvard who has met “Shaw” could confirm whether the information included in his biography is true.
Grech said he met several times with the candidate and “had no reason to suspect he wasn’t telling the truth.”
The HRC officer said, however, he and other members have tried and been unable to reach “Shaw” since he withdrew.
The possible connection between Shaw and the BSC suspect is upsetting, Grech said.
“I think there’s a possibility I had been lied to by someone I had no reason to doubt. It shook me up that someone could dupe so many people,” he said.
Michael G. Housman ’02, president of Sigma Chi, said “Shaw” rushed the fraternity in September but did not receive a bid.
“I feel some relief that we didn’t give him a bid,” Housman said.
Housman said that after not receiving a bid, “Shaw” continued to call Sigma Chi members regularly to find out their weekend plans and would show up at the same places they said they were going.
“I wasn’t appreciating him calling me regularly,” Housman said.
This is not the first time an Extension School student has posed as an undergraduate.
In the fall of 1999, Edward F. Meinert registered as an Extension School student and joined Sigma Chi and the Harvard International Relations Council.
Although Harvard filed no complaints against Meinert, his identity was revealed when he was charged with theft and fraud for illegally financing a spring break trip with a friend’s Social Security number while attending George Washington University.
Queen said the two cases are “totally unrelated” and “extremely rare,” considering that the Extension School currently enrolls 13,000 students.
“Occasionally we get someone who wishes they were studying in Harvard College and simply doesn’t take advantage of what we have to offer,” Queen said. “For someone to say they’re a Harvard College student when they’re really in the Extension School we think shows poor respect for both schools.”
—Staff writer Jenifer L. Steinhardt can be reached at email@example.com.