They say the rejections are out of kindness for those who can't do the work. And they say it with a straight face. At Harvard.
"They" are the various faculty who decide on admittance to seven concentrations that require an application in order for students to obtain the privilege of studying the field.
The process of application to concentrations is a waste of time that insults the seriousness most students bring to the process of deciding upon their concentrations.
Most kids who were serious enough to get into Harvard will probably not choose their fields of study lightly. Yet Dean for Undergraduate Education Lawrence Buell argues, "I think that in a concentration where a major piece of work is going to be expected at the end, and there is unusual interdisciplinarity, it is not unusual to do some sorting at the entry level."
There are two erroneous assumptions in this argument; that "interdisciplinarity" is a word, and that Harvard students have not yet been separated from those who think that Levi Strauss is just a clothing company. Dean Buell can rest easy, for there is "some sorting at the entry level." It's called an admissions office.
If a candidate for a concentration has already successfully navigated the admissions minefield which kills the hopes of over 10,000 kids per year, they should have the right to choose what they will study.
It seems hypocritical to send someone a "certificate of admission suitable for framing" based on hundreds of hours of admission committee meetings and then less than a year later deny them the opportunity to study Social Studies on the basis of what they wrote on two 8 1/2x11 sheets of xeroxed paper.
Ironically, the policy isn't even seriously applied. It's not as though people are crying in their cubicles at Cabot, rejection letter in hand, because they can never realize their dream of being a History and Science concentrator. "I can't imagine History and Science turning anyone away," says one concentrator. And the same holds true with other concentrations that require applications. Virtually anyone can get into any concentration if they apply again or plead their case to the department.
Which begs the question of why students should be subjected to an application process if no one is really going to be denied the opportunity to concentrate in Social Studies anyway.
We concede that there are instances where requirements may still be needed. Literature, for instance, demands proficiency in a foreign language. Turning people away on criteria such as this is not at all unreasonable.
Some might argue that the deterrent that is the application process makes students think carefully about exactly what it is they want to study. We would like to hope that most Harvard students take their education seriously enough to do that anyway.