Harvard Quiz Bowl Player Denies Cheating

Stripped of his team’s championships, he says he didn’t benefit from advance information.

Days after the National Academic Quiz Tournaments stripped Harvard’s quiz bowl team of four national championship titles, the class of 2011 graduate accused of accessing questions before competitions is denying that he cheated. In an email to the Harvard Crimson, Andrew Watkins wrote:

I had no intention to—and functionally speaking did not—benefit from the content of the questions in any way … A website containing question content was loaded. At no point did I read the questions therein.

(Look at the use of passive voice there with the words “was loaded,” which linguistically eliminates his role in, you know doing the loading of the webpage that contained previews of questions to be asked in competition.) In announcing their decision, the NAQT noted that because Watkins wrote questions for the organization’s high school competitions, he had access to the college questions, a lapse in security for which they took blame. They admitted they had “neither direct nor statistical evidence” to prove that he used the advantage in competition, but said “the mere possession of it goes against competitors’ expectations of fair play.”

That said, Crimson reporter Jared Lucky laid out a lot of circumstantial evidence that makes Watkins look pretty suspicious. He seemed to access the site more often in periods just before an important competition. And his exceptional performance even on questions outside his area of expertise made competitors’ suspicious. Watkins isn’t disagreeing with the NAQT’s decision to revoke his wins on the argument that he simply could have cheated, so with everyone agreeing to the result, it doesn’t seem like anyone will press him further on whether he’s telling the veritas when he says he didn’t read questions in advance. Alas, it’s still an unhappy story for Harvard in the wake of a cheating scandal that caught up hundreds of students in the fall.