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Harvard Admissions Trial, 5

See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 5.

The Harvard Crimson‘s coverage of the trial has been excellent. My favorite article so far:

Getting into Harvard is hard. But it’s a lot less hard if your family promises to pay for a new building, according to internal emails presented in court on the third day of the Harvard admissions trial.

Same for Williams. You really think that applicants named Hollander or Horn are treated the same as everyone else? Ha! My best guess — and I don’t have good information on this one — is that between 5 and 20 of the students in each Williams class would not have been admitted were it not for their families being major donors, or potential donors. Other estimates? abl?

The handful of emails — most of them sent between administrators and admissions officers — hint at the College’s behind-the-scenes fondness for applicants whose admission yields certain practical perks. Hughes referenced the emails as he quizzed Fitzsimmons on the “Dean’s Interest List,” a special and confidential list of applicants Harvard compiles every admissions cycle.

1) Never put something in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want to be read out loud by your worst enemy in open court.

2) At Williams, the lingo is “development or future fundraising potential,” although, back in the day, folks in the admissions office used to refer to a rich-but-not-very-qualified applicant as a “Morty Special.”

“Once again you have done wonders. I am simply thrilled about the folks you were able to admit,” Ellwood wrote in the email. “[Redacted] and [redacted] are all big wins. [Redacted] has already committed to a building.”

If you don’t think that there are similar e-mails floating around the Williams computer system, you are naive. Helpful advice to new General Counsel Jamie Art: Time for some spring cleaning before Williams gets involved in this sort of litigation.

Yet another email Hughes read aloud Wednesday offered a window into how Harvard courts candidates whose families have deep ties to the University — and even deeper pockets.

After the family of an unidentified applicant donated $1.1 million to the school, former head tennis coach David R. Fish ’72 treated that candidate to a special tour of campus.

Who remembers this fun discussion from EphBlog 13 years ago?

For Sam Dreeben ’06, the July 12 campus tour was already unusual. With a tour group of undercover College dignitaries — President Schapiro and the Schow family — and unsuspecting prospective students, his job as a guide was to make Williams seem an idyllic mountain paradise of academic excellence.

Which, of course, it is. But big donors make the paradise possible, so take care of them we must.

Read the rest of the Crimson‘s coverage for more fun details.

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#1 Comment By frank uible On October 19, 2018 @ 8:29 am

Those of you who are of my vintage remember payola, don’t you?

#2 Comment By abl On October 19, 2018 @ 11:51 am

My best guess — and I don’t have good information on this one — is that between 5 and 20 of the students in each Williams class would not have been admitted were it not for their families being major donors, or potential donors.

I honestly don’t remember, sorry. My gut is that the number is closer to 5 than 20, but I just can’t say with any degree of confidence.

#3 Comment By Aidan On October 19, 2018 @ 12:01 pm

Does anyone remember where Meg Whitman’s kids went to college? https://pr.princeton.edu/news/02/q1/0204-whitman.htm

#4 Comment By frank uible On October 19, 2018 @ 1:12 pm

One of my sons attended Williams about the same time that I misplaced (and never found) some pocket change. Oh well – easy come, easy go.

#5 Comment By Doug On October 19, 2018 @ 3:04 pm

In my experience, the ultrawealthy students at Williams, the ones whose family names were on buildings, tended to be perfectly qualified students and citizens. I attended a prep school where the same thing maybe couldn’t have been said — they were clearly making allowances in terms of admissions standards to gain donations (or even just donation prospects).

There’s a lot of interesting revelations in the current case against Harvard. This is certainly not one of those revelations — it’s just a bit embarrassing for the school. It’s not fair to the school to act like there was no vetting of these applicants beyond this snippet from the development side of things — I’d be willing to guess these redacted students were qualified to attend Harvard.

I really hope SFFA wins, anyways. Anyone who’s been close to Asians experiencing the admissions process understands very well how much they’re discriminated against. It might be difficult to prove in court, since these schools are adept at covering their tracks, but anecdotally I believe it’s high-time Asians have some reconciliations for the outright racial discrimination they’ve weathered for a couple generations now. I don’t care whether this means accepting fewer white students or black/hispanic students — just accept more qualified Asians.

#6 Comment By Dick Swart On October 19, 2018 @ 3:09 pm

Frank,

I wonder if in our golden days, familiar last names were in the campus mix as a matter of course and not for particular potential attention.

I can’t picture James Phinney Baxter feeling he needed to court new sources of money since the alumni were who they were.

#7 Comment By frank uible On October 19, 2018 @ 11:03 pm

Swart – I’ve been looking for my golden days. If you have found them, please remit. While I’m too old to enjoy them, my heirs would be appreciative.

#8 Comment By Alum-Anon On October 21, 2018 @ 4:26 pm

Aidan says:
Does anyone remember where Meg Whitman’s kids went to college? https://pr.princeton.edu/news/02/q1/0204-whitman.htm

Remember? No. Apparently they both went to Princeton, though.

Children of prominent HYPS-ters often go on to become HYPS-ters themselves.