Harvard's quiz champions stripped of titles after cheating scandal

Student apologises for accessing question database
  • @James_Legge

Quizzers from the world-renowned Harvard University have been stripped of their US titles after it transpired that one of their former star men had accessed a website listing upcoming questions.

Officials from the National Academic Quiz Tournament (NAQT) said Andy Watkins, from the Massachusetts university's "A" team, viewed pages that listed the first 40 characters of forthcoming questions.

Mr Watkins, who graduated in 2011, had basic access to the tournament database because as well as being a competitor at college level, he wrote questions for a school-level tournament.

Now he and his former team-mates have been stripped of four titles, from 2009 to 2011, which have been awarded to the original runners-up.

Organisers said in a statement that though they had "neither direct nor statistical evidence" that his team had directly benefited from his snooping, "it goes against competitors' expectations of fair play."

Mr Watkins, who had gone on to work for the quiz tournament after graduating, admitted accessing the web pages in a statement, but siad: "I did compete in good faith".

He has resigned from NAQT.

He said: "I regret my breaches of question security.

"It will surprise no one that my mental health as an undergraduate was always on the wrong side of 'unstable', but that does not excuse my actions, nor does it ameliorate the damage done.

"I hold my team-mates from all three years to be champions today exactly as they were yesterday.

"I hope that they will consider themselves in the same light, even if my indiscretions mean that the record books cannot."

Michael Arnold, from the University of Chicago team that was retrospectively awarded the 2010 Division I championship after the scandal, said he was glad justice had been done, telling Insider Higher Education: "It's too bad that the other members of those Harvard teams have been hurt by Andy's actions, since they're good citizens within the quiz bowl community."

The tournament involves teams of four students, who compete to answer questions from across the "entire spectrum of a college curriculum" and "current events, sports, and popular culture" in a set time limit. Teams that win their regional championship qualify for the national Intercollegiate Championship Tournament.

The scandal was uncovered when one student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suddenly improved dramatically. After this, officials inspected the database's server logs.

They found that Watkins and students from three other universities had accessed the question pages. One championship title was stripped from each of the other three colleges.

NAQT said in its statement that it had launched a review of security following the discovery of cheating in previous years. Organisers have found "no signs of similar behaviour" in the approach to this year's tournament, it said.