The Undergraduate Council’s expression of support for allowing visiting freshmen from Tulane University to apply to transfer to Harvard mid-year came down on the correct side of an emotional issue. A little generosity and bending of the rules will not hurt anyone, least of all Tulane, and it will make a massive difference to our fellow students.
Much has been made about a supposed “contract” made between Harvard University and the New Orleans universities (Tulane and Loyola University New Orleans) from which it accepted students, which some claim obliges Harvard to prohibit visiting students from staying in Cambridge next term. Fortunately, there was no such public announcement, and Harvard has no normative obligation to satisfy the interests of Tulane or Loyola. On the contrary, out of a sense of compassion and sympathy, Harvard ought to give visiting students an opportunity to transfer mid-year, even though visiting Harvard students are ordinarily barred from transferring at all.
Visiting students, especially the visiting freshmen from Tulane—who have no college experiences outside Harvard, have made their friendships here, and know few people at Tulane—have been indistinguishable from other students; they are rowers, cheerleaders, and members of our classes and extracurricular clubs. In short, they are valuable members of the Harvard community, despite their nominal visiting-student status. Forcing them to leave after their first semester of freshman year—effectively kicking them off campus—will irreparably damage their college experiences and disrupt the community here. And letting visiting students stay will not cause a housing crunch when other students return from time abroad; visiting students have been living in rooms that were originally deemed too loud and too dangerous.
Of course, allowing visiting students to apply to transfer does not mean that all of them will stay, but the act of giving them the opportunity to transfer is important in and of itself. By having the opportunity to apply, visiting students would benefit psychologically from playing an active role in determining their future, rather than simply being shuttled from university to university without any sense of agency. Perhaps this would be cold comfort to the visiting the students who are not accepted, but the opportunity to transfer is better than getting rejected a priori and summarily cast out.
The practical consequences to the New Orleans universities will be minimal, and possibly even positive. There are only eight freshmen here from Tulane, and the transfer admission rate hovers around 6 or 7 percent, so even if every visiting freshman applied to transfer, it is unlikely that more than one or two would be accepted. Even with upperclassmen also applying, the impact on Tulane’s 6,000- and Loyola’s 3,500-strong student body would be infinitesimal. Furthermore, forcing students to return to New Orleans will only lead to embittered student bodies that spend their time plotting to transfer—hardly the outcome that either party is looking for.
Exceptional circumstances brought these students to Harvard and, given this extraordinary situation, the University should not feel bound by rigid adherence to typical admission rules. These students are not the property of their original universities, to be shipped away on the next flight back to New Orleans; rather, they are important members of our community. Allowing them to apply to transfer will benefit everyone. After all, the original agreement to take these students was not made to help Tulane and Loyola, it was made to help the students themselves. We shouldn’t turn our backs on them now that New Orleans is dry.
Piotr C. Brzezinski ’07, a Crimson editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Kirkland House.