Harvard’s Admissions Process, Once Secret, Is Unveiled in Affirmative Action Trial
BOSTON — The deliberations that take place inside 86 Brattle Street, a red brick building where Harvard University’s admissions committee convenes, have very much stayed inside 86 Brattle Street.
A federal trial that began this week accusing Harvard of stacking the deck against Asian-American applicants is providing a rare glimpse into the secretive selection process at one of the country’s most elite universities. It is as if those sitting on the wood benches before Judge Allison D. Burroughs of Federal District Court in Boston have been invited inside the inner sanctum of the Harvard Office of Admissions and Financial Aid.
本周，一项指控哈佛大学对亚裔美国申请者暗中做手脚的案子在一家联邦法院开庭，让人们得以罕见地窥视美国最顶尖大学之一的神秘挑选过程。那些在波士顿联邦地区法院法官阿利森·D·伯勒斯(Allison D. Burroughs)面前的木凳上就座的人们，仿佛被邀请进入了哈佛大学招生和助学金办公室(Harvard Office of Admissions and Financial Aid)的内室。
There is the longtime dean of admissions, William Fitzsimmons (Harvard Class of 1967), on the stand, grilled on whether rural students receive a leg up over urban students. They do.
人们看到哈佛大学长期负责招生的院长威廉·菲茨西蒙斯（William Fitzsimmons, 1967届哈佛毕业生）在法庭上被询问，来自农村的学生是否比来自城市的有优势。回答是“有”。
There on a big screen are his emails with the university’s fund-raisers, suggesting special consideration for the offspring of big donors, those who have “already committed to a building” or have “an art collection which could conceivably come our way.”
Grades, test scores, intended major, personality ratings, ethnicity — all the various factors that can help turn an anonymous high school student into a Harvard man or Harvard woman are being dissected for all to see.
Actual student files have been introduced into evidence, with Thang Q. Diep’s family history being pored over alongside Sally Chen’s test scores.
真实的学生档案已被用作法庭上的证据，汤·Q·叶(Thang Q. Diep)的家史与萨莉·陈(Sally Chen)的考试成绩一起受到审阅。
Court documents and trial testimony have introduced Harvard admissions jargon: “tips” are bumps given to applicants, the “dean’s interest list” is a compendium of applicants with clout, and the “Z-list” is a sort of back door into the college for students who are borderline academically. For everyone, the odds are long, as nearly 43,000 applicants sought spots in the Class of 2022 and just 2,024 received letters prompting high-fives and teary phone calls.
Although many selective colleges are known to engage in the same admissions tactics, Harvard’s lawyers lamented in pretrial papers that being forced to produce application materials would be like divulging trade secrets, and would allow students and college counselors to game the process, which is in full swing right now. The judge even likened Harvard’s formula to the recipe for Coke.
In the end, however, Harvard’s lead counsel, Bill Lee (Harvard Class of 1972), said this week that it had been necessary to spill some secrets.
不过，哈佛大学的首席代理律师比尔·李（Bill Lee, 1972届哈佛毕业生）终于在本周表示，泄露一些秘密是有必要的。
“I’ve definitely not revealed the secret of Coke,” said Mr. Lee, who represented Apple in a patent suit against Samsung — another trial that exposed closely guarded secrets. But, he acknowledged, “you’re learning a lot about the admissions process that never would have been public otherwise. We want you to know. Once you understand it, you can understand how decisions are made.”
Some, but not all, of the secrets have buttressed Harvard’s elite reputation.
It casts a wide net for students, aggressively recruiting those in “sparse country,” predominantly rural areas that yield few applications. It considers a dizzying array of factors, from SAT scores (the higher the better) to athletic ability (recruited athletes receive a big advantage) to interviews (be “effervescent,” “fun,” but “mature”) and more. A lack of deep pockets won’t hinder a hopeful and might even help one’s chances, testimony showed.
But there were other disclosures suggesting that admissions decisions are somewhat arbitrary.
There is the special list for those whom the admissions dean has taken an interest in, some of whom are the relatives of wealthy donors. There is the vague “personal” rating, which can lift or hurt an applicant’s chances based on an assessment of character traits and background, from “outstanding” to “bland or somewhat negative or immature” to “questionable personal qualities.” And the trial this week has raised questions about whether unconscious bias affects the process, either on the part of admissions officials or the teachers and counselors who write letters on applicants’ behalf.
More important than numerical ratings — Harvard uses a scale of 1 (top of the heap) to 6 (no chance) to measure the many aspects of a student’s profile — is “the description and the complexity of the description” provided by those assessing the applicant, Mr. Fitzsimmons said this week in testimony.
A rare look inside a student’s admissions file this week has shined a light on what that means. Harvard referred the court to Thang Q. Diep (Harvard Class of 2019), who had only middling test scores but was admitted to the college by showing a strong work ethic and “infectiously happy personality,” as his admissions file says. Mr. Diep, who was born in Vietnam, submitted part of his file in court to help Harvard fight charges of discrimination.
“Here’s a person who until the fourth grade was in another country and English was not his first language,” Mr. Fitzsimmons said.
Mr. Fitzsimmons quoted an admissions interviewer as saying that what was most striking about Mr. Diep was “his fun, casual nature, but impressive, understated maturity.”
Mr. Diep’s admissions file noted he would be a likely candidate for the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, which offers full rides to low-income families. In summing up Mr. Diep’s personal essay, one reviewer highlighted his “immigrant Vietnamese identity” and that Mr. Diep was “grappling with sexual identity.” The reviewer mentioned a “filmmaking summit” as an extracurricular activity of note.
汤·Q·叶的录取材料指出，他会是哈佛助学金计划(Harvard Financial Aid Initiative)的可能候选人。该计划为低收入家庭提供全额资助。在总结汤·Q·叶的个人申请文书时，一位评审者强调了该生的“越南移民身份”，并指出汤·Q·叶正在“努力解决性别认同的问题”。评审者提到的引人注目的课外活动是一个“电影制作峰会”。
Other admissions files have offered insights into how reviewers distill personal traits from the accomplishments and activities listed. Erica Bever, an admissions officer, testified Friday morning about a student whose application she had reviewed, Sally Chen. She went to a highly competitive high school, but her scores were “a little bit lower than many of her peers,” Ms. Bever said.
Her father was a chef, her mother a homemaker, which Ms. Bever said made her consider whether this applicant had had the same opportunities as some others. She played first violin in an orchestra and was student association president, both characteristics that Ms. Bever said showed leadership. She was doing research, mentoring and web design.
But what particularly moved Ms. Bever were the teacher and guidance counselor ratings, she said, one of which said that Ms. Chen was “a well spoken, ambitious and humorous person.”
Ms. Chen was admitted to the Class of 2019, and is now on the witness list for this trial.
“We have to reject students who are exceptional,” Ms. Bever testified. “But we make choices.”