Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana’s emails welcoming Harvard students back to campus are typically short and sweet.
In a 2016 email, he suggested that undergraduates should post on social media using the hashtag “#WelcometoHarvard.” In a 2017 missive, he discussed his reading list over break (spoiler: he read a lot of Harvard College Alumni Class Reports).
This year was different.
In an email titled “Welcome Home” and sent to students on Monday, Khurana devoted four paragraphs — equivalent to 343 words or about 40 percent of the message — to the ongoing lawsuit charging Harvard discriminates against Asian Americans in its admissions process.
That suit, filed in 2014 by anti-affirmative action advocacy group Students for Fair Admissions, is set to go to trial on Oct. 15. Harvard has repeatedly denied allegations of discrimination.
“As you prepare to return to campus, you may be following the news reports about the admissions lawsuit,” Khurana wrote. “Some of these reports may have raised questions for you about how or why you were accepted to Harvard.”
The summer certainly saw a lot of news reports. Ever since hundreds of pages of documents detailing the internal workings of Harvard’s admissions office became public as part of the lawsuit in early June, news outlets across the country — and their editorial boards — pounced on the thread.
There was the revelation that an internal Harvard review had found that the College’s admissions process produces “negative effects” for Asian Americans. There was the news that Harvard’s legacy admission rate is five times that of non-legacies. There was the report that admits to Harvard’s legendary “Z-list,” a very small deferred admissions pool, are overwhelmingly white and tend to have parents who attended the College.
There was also the discovery that Harvard maintains a “dean’s interest list,” also known as a “director’s interest list” — a special, internal list of applicants who are connected to Harvard in some way or who are of interest to donors.
Not to mention the editorials. “Harvard is Wrong That Asians Have Terrible Personalities,” wrote a guest columnist for the New York Times. “On affirmative action, Harvard can’t have it all,” from the Washington Post’s Charles Lane. “Harvard’s ‘secret sauce’ is a secret shame,” blared the New York Post’s editorial board.
“You may also have read commentary questioning the integrity of the undergraduate admissions process and whether colleges and universities really need a diverse student body to fulfill their educational missions,” Khurana wrote. “I believe strongly that diversity and excellence go hand in hand.”
He informed every student that they are more than their statistics — more than their SAT score, their GPA, their race, ethnicity, sport, or legacy status. Khurana wrote that students are, instead, the sum of their passions, experiences, and dreams.
He wrote that his top priority as Dean of the College is to ensure that all undergraduates — regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality, or socioeconomic status, among other things — feel embraced by Harvard.
“Let me be very clear — every one of you belongs at Harvard College,” he wrote.
Khurana linked in his email to a University-run website that outlines Harvard’s position on the admissions lawsuit. The dean urged students with questions about the suit to visit the site.
The website, which went up several months ago, calls the case a “politically motivated lawsuit” and states Edward Blum, the man behind the suit, “wants to remove the consideration of race in college and university admissions,” something Blum himself previously acknowledged to The Crimson in an email.
“The motivation behind the lawsuit is to end racial classifications and preferences in university admissions,” Blum wrote.
Analysts have previously said the lawsuit could decide the fate of affirmative action in the United States. And if the case reaches the Supreme Court — and if Brett Kavanaugh is sitting on that court — the decision probably won’t fall in Harvard’s favor, experts say, spelling the end for race-conscious admissions.
Khurana seemed to allude to the stakes of the situation near the end of his email.
“Higher education is at a unique inflection point,” he wrote. “We are living in a world where the central values of a liberal arts and sciences education — truth, reason, and civil disagreement — are being challenged.”
“As you contemplate how you will spend your time on campus this year, I hope you will consider what role you will play in creating the society you want to live in,” Khurana added.
—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @delanofranklin_.
—Staff writer Samuel W. Zwickel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @samuel_zwickel.