Open the Files


THE ADMISSIONS Office mailed out the acceptances for the Class of '96 last week. Why did they get in? What special qualities--musical talent, athletic ability, legacy status--gave these 2085 students the edge over the more than 13,000 high school seniors who applied to Harvard?

When they get to school, they can find out. That is, if the Admissions Office doesn't misplace, shred or otherwise lose the document called the "summary sheet."

In response to a complaint filed by Joshua A. Gerstein '91, a former Crimson senior editor, the Department of Education ruled that Harvard must let students see a summary of comments that readers of their applications made--excluding confidential teacher recommendations.

Many Harvard students asked to see their sheets earlier this year. Some were sent letters saying that their summary sheets had been destroyed. Others were able to look at their comments. This small measure was another progressive step toward opening the admission procedure for review.

LIKE PRESIDENTIAL searches and tenure decisions, the admissions procedure is notoriously secret. In recent years, those who have grievances with the Admissions Office have filed complaints like Gerstein's with the Department of Education to have records and documents released.


"What are they afraid of?" is the common question people ask. We don't know. That's the problem.

Harvard didn't even admit that it gives special treatment to athletes and legacies until 1989. And then, it was only because the Department of Education ruled that the University doesn't discriminate against Asian Americans because of these two systems of privilege.

The University would rather that we didn't question their procedures. If people keep filing law suits, maybe some day they will have to answer. Or, at least, give us a summary.

Once again, we have to wonder: What are they afraid of?