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After National Admissions Scandal, Bacow Says 'We Do Some Things Very Differently' at Harvard

University President Lawrence S. Bacow, pictured here at the 2018 Freshman Commencement, said Harvard will reexamine its admissions processes in light of the nationwide college admissions scandal.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow, pictured here at the 2018 Freshman Commencement, said Harvard will reexamine its admissions processes in light of the nationwide college admissions scandal. By Timothy R. O'Meara
By Alexandra A. Chaidez and Aidan F. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writers

University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in a recent interview that Harvard is reviewing its admissions policies in light of the high-profile college admissions scandal that rocked universities across the country earlier this month.

Bacow said Harvard sees the revelations as an opportunity to continuing learning about the best way to conduct college admissions.

“Whenever something happens at another institution, it's an opportunity for all of us to learn,” Bacow said. “So, you know, we are looking at our processes right now and asking what can we learn from what happened at these other institutions.”

Authorities charged 50 people across the country on March 12, as part of the massive admissions scandal where wealthy parents bribed admissions counselors, college coaches, and standardized test administrators to secure spots for their children at elite colleges including Yale, Georgetown, and Stanford. Parents implicated in the scandal included CEOs, entrepreneurs, and Hollywood actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

William “Rick” Singer, a college admissions adviser and the perceived head of the conspiracy, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering, money laundering, to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice.

Yale announced on its website March 26, that it rescinded the admission of a student whose parents paid $1.2 million to Singer to secure her a spot. That marks the first instance of a school making such a move after the scandal become public two weeks ago.

In the interview earlier this month, Bacow said that at Harvard, “we do some things very differently” than some of the schools involved in the scandal.

“For example, with respect to athletes, every athlete who is admitted to Harvard gets an interview,” Bacow said. “Apparently, not true at some institutions.”

In addition to interviewing all athletes, Bacow clarified that Harvard admissions decisions are not made by the Athletics Department.

“Admissions decisions — this actually came out in the lawsuit — are made by a committee of 40 people who all vote on each case with a show of hands,” Bacow said. “So, it actually makes it much harder to influence a decision because you have to persuade a lot of people.”

The College’s own admissions policies have faced scrutiny in recent years.

Harvard went to trial in federal court last October, as part of a four-year lawsuit brought by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions. The suit alleges the College discriminates against Asian-Americans in its admissions processes by assigning qualified applicants lower personal scores to unfairly deny them admission. Harvard defended its policies in court and argued its race-conscious admissions policies are necessary to achieve diversity in its student body.

The three-week trial made public many previously private documents and hundreds of hours of testimony from top University officials that detailed the inner-workings of the Harvard admissions process. These details included information about how the College gives special consideration to the children of donors and what factors cause admissions officers to admit or reject certain applicants.

Judge Allison D. Burroughs is expected to rule on the Harvard case in the coming months. Bacow said in the interview that he remains confident that Burroughs will rule in the University’s favor.

“We have both, I think, the law and the facts on our side in this case,” Bacow said, reiterating his comments from before, during, and immediately after the trial.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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