Admissions Office Says It Destroyed Comment Sheets

Requested Documents Unavailable

The Harvard Admissions Office will not release the application summary sheets of some students who requested them because the documents have been destroyed, Director of Admissions Marlyn McGrath Lewis announced Wednesday.

In a letter to the students, Lewis said it is the office's policy to destroy the sheets--which contain candid written comments by admissions officers about applicants--"after a certain period of time following an applicant's admission."

A recent ruling by the Department of Education requires that the Admissions Office release summary sheets upon request under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The decision, by the Department's Family Policy Compliance Office, was made following a complaint by former Crimson editor Joshua A. Gerstein '91.

Gerstein asked to see his summary sheets in January 1991. He filed the FERPA complaint after Lewis told him in March 1991 that the sheets were confidential and that the University had no legal obligation to make them available.


In an interview with The Crimson last night, Lewis said the sheets are routinely destroyed three years after the applications are processed.

"We don't keep everything forever because we don't have the space," Lewis said.

But in a July 1991 letter to the Family Policy Compliance Office, University Attorney Marianna C. Pierce wrote that the Admissions Office did not have a policy of destroying summary sheets.

"The Admissions Office has con- after their use, and may decide to do so,"Pierce wrote. "It has not yet done so because thesummary sheets are useful in explaining ourprocesses in the case of a complaint by adisappointed applicant, or in the case of reviewinitiated by an outside agency."

Pierce's letter did not mention a policy ofdestroying the summary sheets after three years.Pierce could not be reached for comment yesterdayand Lewis said she would not comment on theletter.

But Dean of Admissions William R. Fitzsimmons'67 said that the policy has not changed and thatstudents who were accepted less than three yearsago should have access to their summary sheets.

"That policy's been in place as long as I canremember," he said. "The vast majority of summarysheets should be available."

But Fitzsimmons said that in some cases, thedocuments may not be available to students if theyhave been lost or misfiled.

"It's certainly conceivable that there could bea situation where something has been misfiled orperhaps even in the course of an investigationthat something has been misplaced. But in a normalsituation a summary sheet should be available,"Fitzsimmons said.

Leroy S. Rooker, director of the Family PolicyCompliance Office, said in a telephone interviewyesterday that Harvard has the right to destroysummary sheets as long as students have notalready filed requests to see them.

"FERPA does not require an institution tomaintain anything," Rooker said. "It's only[required] that they give access to what they domaintain that meets the description of aneducation record."