Hornstine admission reportedly revoked
Harvard's student newspaper said plagiarism led to rejection of the Moorestown grad. The university did not dispute it.
Blair Hornstine, the Moorestown High graduate whose win in federal court has already brought a series of life losses, apparently has been dealt the biggest loss of all: admission to Harvard University.
The Harvard Crimson, the university's student newspaper, reported yesterday that the Ivy League school had revoked the admission of Hornstine, 18, whose successful court battle to be named Moorestown's sole valedictorian attracted national attention and local scorn.
The Crimson, whose story was based on an anonymous source, cited reports that the would-be freshman had plagiarized a series of articles she wrote for the teen section of a South Jersey newspaper. University spokesman Bob Mitchell would neither confirm nor deny the story, citing school policy not to comment on individual students.
But one Harvard official familiar with the case said: "If they were running a story that was untrue, the university would be pretty fast to make a correction... . We wouldn't want anything negative and false to be publicized about an incoming Harvard freshman."
Mitchell said that students accepted to the university are required to sign a list of conditions for admission. Among other reasons, admission can be revoked if a student engages in "behavior that brings into question your honesty, maturity or moral character," he said. Officials say the university rarely withdraws offers of admission - about two or three a year.
Last month, the Courier-Post reported that five articles that Hornstine, then 17, had written for the newspaper's teen section didn't properly attribute information - including passages from U.S. Supreme Court decisions and presidential speeches.
Hornstine, in a written response published in the paper, said she didn't know that news articles "require as strict citation scrutiny as most school assignments."
A Courier-Post reporter discovered the plagiarism while researching a story on Hornstine, who gained national media attention when she filed - and won - a federal lawsuit against the Moorestown school district.
Hornstine, who suffers from what is listed in court documents as an immune disorder that causes chronic fatigue, achieved the highest GPA in her class and was on course to be valedictorian. But school officials said the special-education student had an unfair academic advantage over her peers because of a schedule that allowed her to take most classes at home.
Superintendent Paul Kadri proposed leveling the playing field by naming multiple valedictorians.
Hornstine won in federal court but lost in other aspects of her young life.
In Moorestown, she was widely viewed not as a champion of disabled rights but as the spoiled daughter of a state Superior Court judge. Many questioned her disability and felt that Judge Louis F. Hornstine had used the technicalities of special-education laws to make sure his daughter was number one.
Their home was vandalized. The family was the target of death threats. An online petition called for Harvard to rescind its offer of admission based on Blair Hornstine's "petty, childish actions."
Hornstine, in the end, opted to skip her graduation ceremony - and the farewell speech she had filed a federal lawsuit to give. And now it appears she won't be following in the footsteps of older brother Adam, who just graduated from Harvard.
The family and Hornstine's attorneys did not return calls for comment yesterday.
It is unclear what Hornstine's plans are for the fall. She was also accepted at Princeton, Duke, Stanford and Cornell Universities. Spokespeople at those schools said it was too late for any student who had already turned down an acceptance to enroll in the freshman class.
Cyndy Wulfsberg, Moorestown school board president, expressed sympathy for Hornstine but said she was not surprised to hear about Harvard's decision.
On Monday, the board's legal committee will meet privately to discuss a $2.7 million state lawsuit Hornstine has pending against the district. Wulfsberg said the district would eventually scrutinize Hornstine's high school classwork.
The investigation, Wulfsberg said, was not just about the Hornstine case but the district's academic system as a whole.
"To the extent that it is possible to look into her work, it's our responsibility to do that," Wulfsberg said. "We have to make sure our system is one of integrity and make sure anyone applying from our system [to college] has documents that are appropriate. This is not good for our school district. The suit has made us realize that we have to do some investigation of our own, separate from Blair."
Nick Zegel, 18, a classmate of Hornstine's, said he signed the online petition to rescind Hornstine's admission. Even so, he was shocked it actually happened.
"I can't believe it," said Zegel, who will be a freshman at Boston University in the fall. "Maybe it will teach her a lesson. I think Harvard is going to have a case on their hands. No doubt that there will be another lawsuit."
Classmate David Toniatti, 18, who is headed to Harvard, said it was not for him to say whether Hornstine deserved the slight. He seemed saddened by the news, which he first heard when a reporter from the Harvard Crimson called him.
"It's a complete shock," he said. "But there is no sense of vindication for our class. It's overall a disappointing situation."
Kenneth Mirkin, who achieved the second-highest GPA and would have shared the top honor with Hornstine under the district's proposed multi-valedictorian policy, is also headed to Harvard.
He echoed Toniatti's sentiments: "I hope she can find the support she needs to restructure her life and find happiness in the future."
By Toni Callas and Jennifer Moroz