The Cat is Out of the Bag


"ALIE," Mark twain once observed, "can travel half way around the world while the truth is still getting its shoes on." At last, the truth about how the Harvard admissions office treats minority groups, athletes and children of alumni is catching up with Harvard's dissembling and deception.

For years, officials at the Harvard admissions office could diseminate their version of the events in Byerly Hall virtually without fear of contradiction. They jealously guarded specific data about applicants, keeping potentially embarassing information away from critical eyes.

Now, the jig is up. In cooperation with an investigation into its admissions practices, Harvard turned over a wealth of applicant records to the Department of Education, which used the data to determine that Harvard had not discriminated illegally against Asian-Americans. But in the process, the Ed. Department found that Harvard's treatment of Asian-Americans, though it did not constitute illegal discrimination, did contradict Harvard's own stated policies.

The Ed. Department findings, which were obtained by The Crimson under the freedom of Information Act, reveal the following inconsistencies between what Harvard does and what it says it does:

. Harvard's assertion that Asian-American students, like other minority students, receive an affirmative action "tip" based on their ethnicity could not be substantiated.

. There was no evidence to corroborate Harvard's claim that an Asian-American "ethnic reader" reviewed about 80 percent of Asian-American applications. The department put the figure at less than 20 percent.

. Some readers made comments on applicants' application folders which suggested a stereotypical view of Asian-Americans, notably that they are merely "hard-workers" rather than "outstanding potential scholars." (The report did note that the apparent stereotyping did not seem to hurt Asian-American applicants.)

THE Department of Education found that "none of those [admissions officers] interviewed could think of, or remember a single case in which an applicant's Asian-American ethnicity was cited as the `tip' which resulted in an applicant being admitted over a substantially equal white counterpart."

Despite this revelation, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons '67 continues to insist, quite shamelessly, that "It's very clear to us that students from Asian-American backgrounds often receive a special tip."

It is very clear to us that Fitzsimmons and his colleagues need to come clean. If there is any truth to Fitzsimmons' statement at all, it is because some students who happen to be Asian-American receive tips because they fall into a genuine "favored group"--recruited athletes, legacies and "blue-collar/non-college" backgrounds. Whether affirmative action tips are appropriate for Asian-American applicants or not, Harvard has been irresponsible in deceiving the Asian-American community about the true nature of its admissions process. Harvard should issue a thorough and comprehensive report on its use of affirmative action in admissions, including an account of how the tips very for different ethnic groups.

The admissions office, a notoriously secretive bureaucracy, has betrayed the trust of a community that respected its need for confidentiality and expected honesty in return. Harvard officials ought to show appropriate contrition for their deception, and they must be scrupulously forthright in the future.