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Perhaps because we survived the process, the Harvard admissions procedures for admitting students has always held our fascination. L. Fred Jewett '57 knows that process better than anyone. These are some of his favorite stories about admissions.
Dean Jewett says this story is his all-time favorite and most bizzare admissions yarn:
Several years ago a student by the name of Joe Smith was admitted to the College. He was a rather exceptional boy with excellent academic and extra-curricular credentials. Soon after he was admitted, however, Smith notified the admissions office that he was turning down Harvard to go to another school in the area.
After a little less than a year, the College heard from Smith again. He wrote that he had decided not to go to another school after all and instead has taken several jobs in the past year. Now he was interested in enrolling again and was hoping that the College would let him. His letter enclosed several glowing recommendations from the past year's employers. There was nothing unusual about such a procedure so the College told Smith he could come in the fall.
Late that summer the College got a letter from Smith saying that he was having serious family problems. The letter said his father had passed away and now he needed a scholarship because his mother could not support the household. The College notified Smith that the arrangement would be made. Shortly after the receipt of the scholarship, Smith sent another letter saying that his mother was going to re-marry and he wanted to change his name to his new father's name. The College again said fine, provided the change was not done ad hoc but legally, and that he could show Harvard the documents. The College didn't hear anything from him for a while until right before school began when he wrote that the marriage hadn't worked out.
That fall Smith got into some academic trouble, including two unsatisfactories on his first two hourlies. A senior advisor was dispatched to counsel Smith. They got to talking and Smith said that he was having a bit of trouble commuting, that he was really taxing a friend of his, a teacher from Buckingham, Brown and Nichols who drove him to school everyday. The adviser told him to work harder and relax more.
There were other problems, however. Smith had given the University a post office box where he could be reached for all bill payments. The fiscal services office had been sending bills to that address but had yet to receive any money from Smith. After sending several notices, the fiscal services had called the freshman dean's office and asked them to find out what Smith's problem was.
The senior adviser who originally spoke with Smith took the call. Because Smith could only be reached through the post office box, the adviser did not know where to begin. He remembered Smith's friend, over at Buckingham, Brown and Nichols and gave the teacher a call. The adviser asked the teacher: "Hey, do you know how I can get a hold of that Harvard student, Joe Smith, that you drive to school each day?"
The teacher replied, "Yes, but his name is Pete Brown, not Joe Smith."
The situation was beginning to make sense. College officials huddled on the matter and decided they had to confront this Pete Brown/Joe Smith and find out what was going on. "We got everybody alerted--and started doing detective work," Jewett recalls.
Finally, after weeks of trying to get a hold of the guy, the officials nabbed him in a stake-out at Mem Hall where he was scheduled to take a fine arts mid-year exam. After several hours of denials Pete Brown offered the following explanation. Smith was a vague friend of Brown's who had gone to the same high school. When Smith decided not to go to Harvard--he had indeed enrolled in an area school--Brown decided to assume his identity. He forged letters of recommendation and, in order to get his name changed to Peter Brown, of course he concocted the story of his father's death and his mother's re-marriage. The story was further complicated by the fact that Peter Brown never told his parents what he was doing. The post office box kept them uninformed too. The secrecy at home explained why he needed the scholarship so badly. His double life was made even more difficult by his appearances on campus where other Harvard students from his high school knew and called him by his real name.
Jewett sums it all up by saying that perhaps Brown could have pulled the whole thing off if the College had let him change his name without asking for legal papers. There is one hitch, however--Brown wasn't that intelligent. Jewett says he had already flunked out of another college during the year between high school and Harvard and seemed to be headed in the same general direction at Harvard, too.
Some people, Jewett says, never give up hope of getting in here. One character has applied every year for the past five years. Some years he puts in two or even three applications with his names and essays slightly altered. He'll change a middle initial, or spell his first and last names a bit differently and make a few changes on his essays, Jewett says. Each time he is rejected the College gets a big long letter explaining how it must have made some mistake, "I don't think he'll ever make it," Jewett says.
When sorting out applications the admissions officials tends very early to group together those people who look like sure admits. One person's application about three or four years ago definitely footed that bill. A quick glance at his file revealed some amazing feats. But, under closer observance the officials began to smell a rat. The guy claimed to have danced with Nureyev, run a 9.3 hundred and played in the New York Philharmonic. He said he had gotten all 800s on every test. It's funny the straw that broke the camel's back was his claim that he was an All-American soccer player. "There was just too many things he was claiming to do that hadn't been done," Jewett says about the rejected culprit.
Has there ever been a case of a mistaken admittance? Jewett says a few years back the admissions office was considering two boys with the exact same names right down to the middle initials. One got rejected while the other was admitted. The letters fell into the wrong hands. The admissions office solved the problem magnanimously enough, however. The student receiving the letter of rejection was called and told he could come, while the student who should have been rejected was never told anything. "They were close enough in standing that we didn't think there was anything wrong," Jewett says.
Sometimes Harvard isn't as benevolent. A student who was supposed to receive a rejection letter was fortunate for a few days, at least, to believe he had gotten into Harvard when he was sent a letter of admittance. But admissions officials quickly notified the boy that it was all a mistake. They eventually convinced the parents not to take threatened legal action to admit their son because, Jewett says, it would have been an academic disaster if their son had been enrolled.
In one slip up this year an accepted male student received a Radcliffe letter of acceptance as a result of a computer error. He had one of those borderline names like Leslie, Jewett says, and the computer had his name stored in the female file.
Jewett remembers the time that the Freshman dean's office got a call from an alumnus in praise of Harvard's crew. It seems that Coach Parker was up to his old trick of mass-mailing recruitment. This alumnus just wanted to say that he knew Harvard had an incredible crew team already, but he had to tell somebody that he was really impressed this year because his 6-feet, 4-inch, 210-pound son had gotten a letter asking him to try out as a coxswain.
From his position in the freshman dean's office, W.C. Burris Young has the best view of the goings on in the Yard in the last few decades. Young tells these stories about life in the 1960s, before and during the revolution.
Young likes to tell stories of the 1960s when street people used to make a profession of hanging out in the Yard. It seems that there was this one group of freshmen from Wiggles worth which was absolutely obsessed with street people. They simply loved to bring hoards of them in to their suite and shelter them.
Well, the situation began to get desperate and by the spring the Wiggles worth proctor gave up on the kids and got a University policeman to look into the suite to see what was going on. As soon as the policeman walked in he found eight street people strewn comfortably on the floor. As the cop proceeded through the suite the sound of a flushing toilet could be heard as more street people discretely disposed of their wares. The trip to the bathroom revealed eight more brethren. A final jaunt to the bedroom saw nine more residents--25 freeloaders in all. Young explains the street people couldn't resist this group of freshmen. "They knew a good touch when they saw one."
Up until the late 1960s, Young recalls, parietals ruled the Yard. Of course, parietals were supposed to be the bane of the existence of sexually permissive students. But someday a revisionist Harvard historian will no doubt put together a different story about parietals, one which would lead you to believe that parietals worked in favor of just what they were supposed to be discouraging. Young says, under the rules, women were allowed in the mens' rooms from four until seven p.m. on the weeknights and four until eight p.m. on the weekends. "If a guy and a girl were studying past seven p.m., say until 7:30, then she just had to stay the night," Young says. "Otherwise if she were seen leaving the dorm after hours she would be nabbed by a Yard cop."
Twice each term parietals were suspended until midnight. "Those were some of the most godawful nights--really a horrorshow," Young says. Everybody went wild. There were gallons and gallons of beer flowing. There used to be a lot of raids up to the 'Cliffe then too, Young says. "But the 'Cliffies just threw stuff at the raiders. They were very uninterested in the freshmen," Young says.
Before the construction of the Science Center, a building named Lawrence Hall stood on the site. During the 1960s the street people more or less took over Lawrence Hall and set up makeshift stoves and beds. Young says the University really didn't mind because the building wasn't in use at the time. In face, the University encouraged the street people to use the showers in Thayer North. The relationship, he adds parenthetically, broke down when a woman was about to deliver a baby in the Thayer shower.
Young said he established communication with the street people by reading them poems. "They were a fairly intelligent bunch of runaways," he says. "We got them to wash and not to cook openly in the building." Anyway, they played by the rules. But one day, Young got a call from the Cambridge police telling him to look out his window. Flames were leaping from the hall. The building was soon a charred shell.
The upshot of the story is that the inhabitants of Lawrence were such good panhandlers that in one day they raised enough money in the Square to head off to a farm in Vermont.
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