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Cheating Strips Harvard Of Titles

Boston — Harvard University’s championships in four Quiz Bowl academic competitions were revoked after an audit showed a student cheated by looking at questions in advance.

National Academic Quiz Tournaments stripped Harvard of championships in 2009, 2010 and in two categories in 2011, the company said in a statement Wednesday but not widely reported until yesterday.

The Harvard revelations surfaced in a probe that also found cheating by competitors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Michigan and a high school in Delaware. In each case, the Quiz Bowl discovered that students had, through an Internet security gap, peeked at parts of questions that would be posed at competitions, the company said.

“Everyone understands at Quiz Bowl that you don’t access questions in advance,” said Robert Hentzel, president of National Academic Quiz Tournaments, in a telephone interview. “Even if you click on these pages once, it should be obvious that ‘I should not be seeing this,’ and you should click away.”

About 2,500 college, high school and middle school students annually participate in Quiz Bowl competitions that are typically held in campus classrooms, Hentzel said.

The students were able to access the questions because they also wrote questions for competitions, Hentzel said. The security flaw allowed question writers to see the first few words of questions being prepared for other competitions, he said.

The tournament company received an anonymous tip that an MIT Quiz Bowl player, Joshua Alman, had used this security gap to look at questions for an upcoming competition he was slated for, said Hentzel, who is also the company’s chief technology officer. An audit of the system linked Alman to the college question page, Hentzel said.

MIT was stripped of wins in 2012 that Alman participated in, NAQT said.

The discovery prompted Hentzel to see whether any other college question contributors had breached the site’s security, leading to the discovery about Harvard, he said.

“We have to trust our question writers,” Hentzel said. “We wanted to give our college players a chance to write questions, and a few took advantage of this security flaw to mar our most prestigious championship.”

Andy Watkins, the Harvard student who improperly accessed the site, told the tournament company that he regretted the security breaches.

“I am gratified that NAQT acknowledges that there is neither direct nor statistical evidence that I took advantage of my access,” he said in a statement posted on the company’s website. “Though I know everyone will make their own judgments, I did compete in good faith.”

Harvard, based in Cambridge, Mass., can continue to compete in Quiz Bowl competitions, Hentzel said. The university doesn’t have independent knowledge of the incident, said Jeff Neal, a spokesman. The campus is on spring break.