Friday, April 13, 2007

A painful case

There is a disturbing piece of news reported by The Crimson earlier this week, which came out of an investigation conducted by a Harvard College student and blogger named Kameron Collins '09. The news concerns a 30-something former Extension School student named Michael Godelia, who has allegedly been passing himself off as a Harvard College undergraduate, and until recently was sitting in on classes and gaining access to Harvard facilities -- including Lamont Library and undergraduate dorm rooms.

From the Crimson article by Anna Tong:
"I was walking out of a final and he told me he liked my jacket, and started talking to me," said James B. Onstad '09. "We talked for maybe half an hour and over the next year he contacted me a few times through Facebook. He always had business schemes he was trying to pitch to me."

Joseph K. Cooper '07 said Godelia has shown up to parties in his Currier House suite uninvited. "This guy was very strange," Cooper said. "He asked a couple of sophomore girls where they lived, and asked for the layout of Currier. It was very off-putting."
Collins, the blogger, knows Godelia, and researched his past after participating in an on-campus panel together. What he found was disturbing enough that Collins opted to write a blog entry entitled "Have you seen this man?"
At this point, we do not know how Godelia has managed to access Lamont Library or a House's dining hall, as these and many other Harvard buildings and facilities require a student ID for access, unless one has bought a Special Borrower Card for special access to Harvard libraries.**

Recently, Godelia also has been spotted at several parties on campus, including post-initiation celebrations at the Harvard Advocate. An e-mail over the Advocate's e-mail list from the group's President cited that several members complained of Godelia's inappropriate behavior at an Advocate party. The e-mail, which was accompanied by the photo seen above, alerted members that Godelia was forbidden to enter the building under any circumstances. The e-mail both identified Godelia and reminded members of the seriousness of sexual harassment.***

Godelia was already known to some Advocate members because he had earlier attempted to Comp the magazine, though his Comp was cut short when members realized that the man -- believed to be 32 -- was not a registered undergraduate, or for that matter, a Harvard affiliate.

According to an online article (linked above) from Baylor University's student newspaper, The Baylor Lariat, Godelia -- nicknamed "The Loose Cannon" -- was asked not to return to the campus after an 11-day stakeout that ended with Godelia being arrested, charged with burglary of habitation, and asked not to return to campus.****

*Confirmed by FAS and relayed by a Crimson Reporter: Michael Godelia is, in fact, NOT -- nor was he ever -- an Undergraduate at Harvard College, despite claims to the contrary. Godelia was previously registered at the Extension School. He is not enrolled in the Extension School this semester.

**Visit here for more information on Special Borrower Cards.

**Direct quotes from this e-mail have been retracted due to confidentiality.

***The accuracy of the Baylor article has also been disputed, though because I have not found that the article was retracted citing factual inaccuracy and has since remained available since it was originally published 1996, the link will remain available on this post.
The blog investigation carried out by Collins generated dozens of comments from other undergraduates (including some supporters) who recalled interacting with Godelia.

But the most interesting comments come from a commenter who claims to be Godelia. This commenter vigorously denies a variety of criminal charges and claims made against him, and further states that he is a Harvard undergraduate.

According to Collins, research by the Crimson has determined that Godelia has never been a Harvard College undergraduate. I am not even sure he formally entered the ALB program at the Extension School, although he reportedly took several semesters of HES classes, ending last fall. The HUPD is "aware" of Godelia, and earlier this week a Law School employee removed him from a class he had been sitting in on, says the Crimson.

What's my take? It's one thing for Harvard Extension School students to participate in community activities, Harvard organizations, and academic activities that are open to all -- clubs, panels, the Graduate School Council, Phillips Brooks House, etc. It's something else for a handful of students/former students to misrepresent themselves, crash classes, and gain access to restricted areas of campus, such as undergraduate dormitories, using confidence tricks or expired IDs. It's happened before, as this Crimson article about Edward F. Meinert Jr. describes.

Considering the tens of thousands of students who have taken HES classes, and the thousands who have graduated from HES programs, these cases should be seen as isolated incidents. Unfortunately, they reflect very negatively on the Extension School -- one comment on the Harvard College blog mentioned earlier called for Extension School students to lose their FAS computing privileges, and this week I noticed a referrer in my website logs from Google based on a Google search for "Harvard Extension School get rid of it" from a Harvard IP address. The Extension School community doesn't deserve this type of treatment -- we study hard and contribute to the University academically and in other ways. But the Extension School's image nevertheless suffers greatly when cases like this come to light.

Note about comments:

I have disabled comments for this thread. This is the first time I've had to do this, but I feel it's necessary owing to the issue being discussed and the fact that I can't verify the identities of who is posting comments.

April 17: An emailed comment from an ALB candidate named Richard:
... It's important to remember that organizations with a high status level always have impersonators. There are people who try to pass themselves off as royalty and people who try to pass themselves off as VIPs to get into Hollywood parties. This kind of behavior isn't new or unique to Harvard.

On the other hand, one important distinction that needs to be stressed is that there is a world of difference between a degree candidate and an extension student. I don't think that the writers at the Crimson understand that point nor do I think that members of the extension community make them aware of that error. Furthermore, I would argue that the bar needs to be set higher for the Extension School degree programs. I think we would go a long way towards alleviating concerns about the extension population if we took steps to improve the quality of that same population. Until we do, we'll see more of this kind of thing since the Harvard name draws too many strange characters to the program.

The key to the future of HES is establishing it as a distinct but high-quality program. I feel no need to convince others that I'm part of the College and I'm perfectly happy with my status as a HES degree candidate.