Harvard Takes Back Hornstine Admission Offer

Decision follows allegations of plagiarism by controversial admit

Harvard has revoked its admission of Blair Hornstine, the prospective member of the Class of 2007 who made national headlines when she sued her school system to ensure she would be her high school’s sole valedictorian.

Following a widely-publicized report that Hornstine had plagiarized material in articles she wrote for her local paper, the Harvard admissions office has rescinded her offer to attend Harvard in the fall, according to a source involved with the decision.

Her acceptance came under scrutiny after her local newspaper, the Courier-Post, reported that Hornstine had “misused sources” in five stories she wrote for the paper and had lifted extensive material directly from speeches and papers published on the Internet. The media attention followed her decision to sue the Moorestown, N.J. school system to ensure she graduate as sole valedictorian of her high school. A federal judge ruled in Hornstine’s favor last month and forbid the school district from naming a co-valedictorian.

According to Director of Undergraduate Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis ’70-’73, who declined comment on Hornstine’s case, Harvard admission is contingent on five conditions enumerated for students upon their acceptance—including one which stipulates admission will be revoked “if you engage in behavior that brings into question your honesty, maturity, or moral character.”

Lewis said plagiarism could qualify as grounds for withdrawing acceptance, and according to another source familiar with Harvard’s admissions process, it would be very unusual for Harvard not to act against an individual whose plagiarism was confirmed.

Neither Hornstine nor a spokesperson for the family returned The Crimson’s calls for comment yesterday, and her lawyer, Edwin J. Jacobs, refused to comment when reached by phone.

Hornstine’s spokesperson, Steven K. Kudatzky ’72, had said previously that she was in contact with Harvard about the alleged plagiarism.

According to Lewis, when an application comes under review, Harvard first asks a student “to tell us in his or her own words what happened.”

The admissions committee—composed of both representatives from the admissions office and professors—then meets to discuss the case.

The decision on Hornstine followed such a meeting.

Since the allegations of plagiarism were first reported, Hornstine has defended her actions by way of press releases and family spokespersons.

In a column by Hornstine in June printed next to the Courier-Post’s note about the “misused sources,” Hornstine said her citation problems stemmed from a lack of training in journalism.

“I kept notes on what I had read,” she wrote. “When finalizing my thoughts, I, like most every teenager who has use of a computer, cut and pasted my ideas together. I erroneously thought the way I had submitted the articles was appropriate.”

Hornstine wrote she now understands that she “was incorrect in…thinking that news articles didn’t require as strict citation scrutiny as most school assignments because there was no place for footnotes or end notes.”

At the time, Kudatzky said he thought it unlikely that Harvard would withdraw Hornstine’s admission.

“I am confident that, at the end of the day, Harvard will see that this is a non-issue, and, quite frankly, something that is another example of Blair being singled out and victimized,” he told The Crimson.

Lewis said at the time that “several” offers of admission for the Class of 2007 were under review, though she would not comment on specific cases. But she said offers come under reconsideration for a variety of reasons.

“Most of the time we learn it from the student. Sometimes we hear it from the school. Every once in a while we learn it in the newspaper,” she said.

Harvard’s decision to revoke Hornstine’s offer of admission is the latest development in a saga that began with Hornstine’s $2.7 million suit aimed at preventing her Moorestown, N.J. high school from appointing a second student to share her valedictory honors.

Diagnosed as disabled, Hornstine received most of her high school instruction at home from private tutors, although she was enrolled in the same classes as her peers.

Charging that this setup unfairly advantaged Hornstine, school officials considered naming multiple valedictorians.

In a preliminary injunction, a federal judge agreed with Hornstine that the school’s decision constituted discrimination, and ordered that she be named sole valedictorian.

Hornstine’s suit drew national attention and triggered strong reactions, from Harvard to her hometown.

An online petition, begun before the allegations of plagiarism surfaced, urged Harvard to take back its offer of admission and had garnered 2,685 signatures as of last night.

Hornstine has become a pariah in her town, residents say. Her house was battered with eggs and spray-painted with obscenities, and Hornstine’s family has received death threats over the phone.

Hornstine defended her lawsuit in a written press release, calling her decision to litigate “an act of necessity, aimed at saving others from apathy.”

The media spotlight returned recently when she did not appear at her high school graduation and did not deliver the valedictory address for which she had gone to court.

Hornstine’s case—and her request for damages—remains in litigation pending either a settlement or a jury trial. The two parties will meet before a judge August 13 to discuss further proceedings, Moorestown High School attorney John Comegno said.

In preparation for further discussions, the Moorestown school board is investigating the integrity of Hornstine’s academic coursework, said Cyndy Wulfsberg, the board’s president.

“We need to find out absolutely everything that we can. If it means examination of her work, and if that work is there to be examined, I’m sure we’ll do it,” she said, adding that the board will also likely interview all those involved in Hornstine’s education, including her tutors and guidance counselors.

When contacted by The Crimson yesterday, Moorestown Superintendent Paul A. Kadri said he had not heard of Harvard’s revocation but said he found the news upsetting.

“If it’s true, then I see this as just a very sad chapter to a very sad story,” he said.

—Staff writer Elizabeth W. Green can be reached egreen@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer J. Hale Russell can be reached at jrussell@fas.harvard.edu.