Students May View Admissions Comments

The Harvard Admissions Office now must release students' application "summary sheets" because of a Department of Education ruling that says the documents are accessible under federal law, a recent graduate announced yesterday.

Joshua A. Gerstein '91 submitted requests on behalf of several dozen undergraduates yesterday to obtain their summary sheets--written comments made by admissions officers about a student's application.

Gerstein said he was requesting the summary sheets for use in a research project and because he believed students had a right to see the sheets.

Gerstein asked to see his summary sheet in January 1991.

Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis informed him in March 1991 that the University had "no legal obligation to make it available to [him]." Lewis told Gerstein that the summary sheets were confidential and should not be given to students.


Gerstein then filed a complaint with the Family Policy Compliance Office of the Department of Education. In the complaint Gerstein alleged that the University violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) when it denied his request.

In a letter to the Department of Education responding to Gerstein's complaint, Harvard attorney Marianna C. Pierce said the sheets contained excerpts from teacher recommendations. Because Gerstein waived his ,rights to these records, Pierce said that heshould not be allowed to see the summary sheets.

Pierce added that the summary "sheets were notused by the University in making decisions that"affect the life of a student" and so should notbe protected by FERPA.

The letter also stated that the admissionsoffice "has considered simply destroying thesheets after their use, and may decide to do so,"but that "it has not yet done so because thesummary sheets are useful in explaining ourprocesses in the case initiated by anoutside agency."

In August 1991, LeRoy S. Rooker, director ofthe Family Policy Compliance Office ruled thatstudents should have access to the documents.

In a letter to President Neil L. Rudenstine,Rooker stated that summary sheets were subject toFERPA because they are educational records and arerelated to students.

According to the Department of Educationdecision Harvard must allow students to "inspectand review" their summary sheets, but only afterremoving any confidential information, includingany information that students have waived theirrights to see.

Gerstein said yesterday that he delayedannouncing the federal decision because he fearedthe University would destroy the summary sheets.Gerstein said he wanted to submit several requestsat once to prevent the University from destroyingthe documents.

Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R.Fitzsimmons '67 said yesterday that Harvard willnot destroy the summary sheets, although manycolleges do so.

Fitzsimmons said that the admissions officewill "obviously... comply with the request."

But Fitzsimmons said that because allconfidential information on the summary sheetswill be removed the federal decision will not havea major impact.

"This is really an extension of somethingstudents can already do," Fitzsimmons said.

Gerstein said that students can call his"Admissions Research Project" hotline at 499-8698to receive information about how to obtain theiradmissions records.

"I really was not all that interested in seeingwhat they wrote about me," said Gerstein. "I justfeel that students should have a right to look at[the summary sheets]."

Gerstein is a former senior editor of TheCrimson