BOSTON -- Harvard President Drew Faust said Thursday that athletes should not be singled out for blame in what is believed to be the largest cheating scandal in the school's history. Nor are they being treated any differently in the investigation, she added.
"It is not about one student group," Faust said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It's not confined to any one student group."
In her first interview on the subject since the school revealed that as many as 125 students in a single class may have shared answers on a final exam, Faust said the "allegations go to the core of what is most valuable to us."
Harvard announced last month that it was investigating similarities in the answers that more than 100 students submitted on an open-book, take-home final. Federal privacy laws prohibit the school from identifying the students or even the class, but published reports have said the class is an upper-level government class called "Introduction to Congress," and that several of the students are athletes.
The Harvard College Administrative Board, known to students as the "Ad Board," is investigating. Jay Harris, the school's dean of undergraduate education, has said the likely outcomes range from exoneration or a simple admonishment to a requirement that the student take a year off.
"It will, I expect, exonerate some number of these students," Faust said from New York, where she was attending a premiere for the PBS documentary based on her 2008 book, "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War."
"The process itself, and our fidelity to this process – which transcends this incident ... that process is operating here," she said. "And it's consistent with how it is always executed, and it is meant to affirm a set of standards we uphold for all our students."
The Harvard Crimson school newspaper said at least one student had been told to expect a decision by November, at the latest. But that timetable poses a special problem for athletes, who would lose a year of eligibility if they had enrolled in school or started their season before withdrawing.
Sports Illustrated reported on its web site this week that basketball co-captain Kyle Casey had decided to withdraw rather than endanger his eligibility; the Boston Herald reported that fellow captain Brandyn Curry had also decided to take a year off.
Long considered one of the top academic institutions in the nation, earning at least a share of first place in the U.S. News & World Report this week for the fifth consecutive year, Harvard's athletics have also been rising to the top. The football team won the Ivy League title last year, and the men's basketball team reached the NCAA basketball tournament for the first time in 46 years.
In her freshman convocation when the Class of 2016 arrived on campus last week, Faust reminded the students that they will benefit not just from the outcome of their work at Harvard but also by the work itself.
On Thursday, Faust reaffirmed that no academic compromises had been made in the interest of athletic success.
"Their experience at Harvard is in large part defined by the work they do," she said. "Any kind of success and achievement is necessarily tied to the integrity of that work."