Harvard Releases Comment Sheets

The Harvard Admissions Office has released the application summary sheets of several students who requested them, the students said this week.

Students received letters over spring break saying that they could review their summary sheets, although information based on teacher recommendations would be deleted.

The move follows a decision by the Department of Education requiring Harvard to release the documents, which contain admissions officers' candid written comments about applicants.

That ruling, by the Department's Family Policy Compliance Office, came in response to a complaint by former Crimson editor Joshua A. Gerstein '91.

Gerstein filed the complaint under the federalFamily Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)when his request to see his summary sheets wasdenied by the Admissions Office early last year onthe grounds that the documents are confidential.

Gerstein applauded the release of the documentsthis week and said that admissions offices must beheld accountable for their comments.


"Admissions offices really have a lot of powerand they prefer to operate in secret," Gersteinsaid. "Basically what we're saying is that peoplewho have that much power who get to make majordecisions not only that affect students' lives butthat affect the character of the University haveto be held publicly accountable. The colleges areoften very uncomfortable with that for reasonsthat are very unclear."

The release of the sheets comes after theAdmissions Office's announcement two weeks agothat it had destroyed the summary sheets of somestudents as part of a longstanding policy ofshredding the documents three years after anapplicant's admission.

At that time, several students said they weresuspicious of the office's failure to provide thesheets.

But students who received the summaries saidthis week that they were pleased to be able toview them.

"I was very glad to obtain it," said Crimsoneditor Ira E. Stoll '94. "It was verycomplimentary."

Disappointing Content

Some students said, however, that they weredisappointed with the documents' content.

"It boiled down my entire application into twosentences and a number [rating]," said Crimsoneditor Bader A. el-Jean '95. "If that's what theadmissions officers look at when they look at myapplication, then that's a disappointment."

One student said her comment sheets containedmistakes about her application.

Crimson editor Beth L. Pinsker '93--who wroteher application essay about an exchange programthat took her to Belgium--said her reviewerassumed she learned Flemish while overseas.

"They didn't get anything wrong except for thefact that I don't much speak Flemish," Pinskersaid.

And Crimson President Julian E. Barnes '93 saidhis summary sheets revealed surprisinginformation.

"I'm terribly saddened to find out I was alegacy," said Barnes, whose sheets containedreferences to his parents' degrees from theGraduate School of Education.

"It was also interesting to find out thatdifferent readers had different reactions to theapplication...and to my essay," Barnes added. "Oneperson liked it a lot and one person said itmerely had its moments."

Dozens of students at other colleges have filedrequests for their schools' versions of thesummary sheets following the Department ofEducation ruling. Most colleges have said theywould comply with the ruling.

Stanford Reverses Decision

At Stanford University, the admissions officefirst refused the students' requests but reversedits decision on Monday, according to Dean ofUndergraduate Admissions James M. Montoya.

Montoya said he will distribute a cover letteralong with the summary sheets in order to explainthe admissions process to students.

While Harvard officials said yesterday they donot expect the availability of the documents toaffect the tone or candor of future summaries,admissions officers at other colleges said theyanticipate that reviewers will be more careful intheir written comments.

"If colleges decide to keep [the summarysheets] as a part of the record they're going tohave to think long and hard about what they say,"said Daniel J. Saracino, dean of admissions atSanta Clara University and president of theNational Association of College AdmissionsCounselors.

"I think it will certainly cause all of us tobe cautious about any references that could bemisinterpreted," said Willis J. Stetson Jr.,director of admissions at the University ofPennsylvania. "We would not want to say anythingthat we don't want to see as a headline in The NewYork Times.