Harvard’s Admissions Secrets
Les critères d'admission secrets à l'université de Harvard
L’université de Harvard face à la question de la discrimination.
La réputation de Harvard n’est plus à faire. Depuis quinze ans, la prestigieuse université américaine domine le classement de Shanghai des meilleures universités au monde. Pourtant, elle est aujourd’hui accusée devant la justice de discriminer les candidats américains d’origine asiatique dans le but de limiter leur nombre. Ce procès en cours est en train de relancer le débat sur la discrimination dans l’accès à l’enseignement supérieur...
He had perfect scores — on his SAT, on three SAT subject tests and on nine Advanced Placement exams — and was ranked first in his high school class of 592. An admissions officer who reviewed his application to Harvard called him “the proverbial picket fence,” the embodiment of the
1. score note, résultat / SAT = Scholastic Aptitude Test (aux É.U.) examen d'entrée à l'université / SAT subject test examen d'entrée à l'université portant sur une ou plusieur(s) matière(s) choisie(s) par l'élève / Advanced Placement programme permettant à des lycéens de suivre des cours de niveau universitaire dans certaines matières / to rank se classer / admission officer ici, chargé des admissions (à l'université) / to review étudier, examiner / application candidature / the proverbial picket fence réf. à la palissade (picket fence) que l'on trouve autour des maisons dans les banlieues américaines et symbole de la vie idéale de la classe moyenne. Ici, l'étudiant idéal / embodiment incarnation / American dream, saying, “Someone we’ll fight over w/ Princeton, I’d guess.” But in the end, the student was wait-listed and did not get in.
2. Generations of high school students have applied to Harvard thinking that if they checked all the right boxes, they would be admitted. But behind the curtain, Harvard’s much-feared admissions officers have a whole other set of boxes that few ambitious high school students and their parents know about — or could check even if they did. The officers speak a secret language — of “dock-
to fight, fought, fought over se disputer, se battre pour / w/ = with / to be wait-listed être mis sur liste d'attente. 2. to check ici, cocher / box ici, case / behind the curtain en coulisses / much-feared très redouté / ets,” “the lop list,” “tips” and the “dean’s interest list” — and maintain a culling system in which factors like where applicants are from and whether their parents went to Harvard may be just as important as scoring a perfect 1600 on the SAT.
3. This arcane selection process has been illuminated by a lawsuit accusing Harvard of violating federal civil rights law by using racial balancing to shape its admissions in a way that discriminates against Asian-Americans. Harvard says it does not discriminate.
4. The lawsuit, brought by an anti-affirmative action group called Students for Fair Admis- docket ici, région / lop list réf. aux cinq critères (dont l'origine ethnique) permettant d'affiner la sélection à la fin du processus d'admission (to lop off couper) / tip ici, avantage / dean doyen (d’université) / culling ici, éliminatoire (to cull sélectionner) / applicant candidat. 3. arcane mystérieux, hermétique / lawsuit action judiciaire, procès / civil rights law loi de 1964 déclarant, entre autres, la discrimination raciale illégale / balancing (recherche d'un) équilibre / to shape façonner. 4. affirmative action discrimination positive / fair juste, équitable /
sions, has revived the national debate over race-conscious admissions, which is playing out from colleges down to elementary schools. That debate goes back to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. The assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 was a turning point, pushing colleges to redouble their efforts to be more representative of U.S. society.
5. But Asians were an overlooked minority despite a long history of discrimination. As late as 1976, Harvard did not recognize them as a minority group and barred them from a freshman minority orientation banquet. They had a kind of neither-nor identity, denied both the solidarity of other students of color and the social standing of white people. “There’s even a tendency to stay away from each other because you know how, in college, status and prestige are important,” said T.K. Chang, who was at Harvard in the mid-70s.
6. Since then the stakes in the admissions game have grown. About 40,000 students apply each year, and about 2,000 are admitted for some 1,600 seats in the freshman class. The chances of admission this year were under 5 percent.
7. The sorting begins right away. The country is divided into about 20 geographic “dockets,” each of which is assigned to a subcommittee of admissions officers with intimate knowledge of that region and its high schools. Generally two or three admissions officers, or readers, rate applications in five categories: academic, extracurricular, athletic, personal and “overall.” They also rate teachers’ and guidance counselors’ recommendations. And an alumni interviewer also rates the candidates.
8. Harvard says it also considers “tips,” or admissions advantages, for some applicants. The plaintiffs say the college gives tips to five groups: racial and ethnic minorities; legacies, or the children of Harvard or Radcliffe alumni; relatives of a Harvard donor; the children of staff or faculty members; and recruited athletes. Whether Harvard gives a penalty — in effect, the opposite of a tip — to AsianAmericans goes to the heart of the current litigation. A 1990 report by the Education Department found that, while Harvard was not discriminating against Asian-Americans, it was not giving them a tip, either.
9. There are other ways to bolster one’s chances of admission, according to the court papers. Savvy alumni hope to gain an advantage for their children by volunteering for Harvard, perhaps by being an admissions interviewer. It also helps to secure a spot on the “dean’s interest list” or the “director’s interest list.” These lists include the names of candidates who are of interest to donors or have connections to Harvard, according to the court papers.
SHAPING A STABLE RACIAL PROFILE
10. The plaintiffs accuse Harvard of jiggering its selection process to create a remarkably stable racial profile from year to year. This year it admitted a class that was almost 23 percent Asian-American; almost 16 percent African-American; and just over 12 percent Latino. The share of admitted students who are Asian-American has risen from 17.6 percent in 2009, and other minorities have gained in concert. But if Harvard were raceblind, the plaintiffs say, its freshman class would be about 40 percent Asian-American, like the University of California, Berkeley, a public institution that has to abide by a state ban on racial preferences.
11. Khurana, the Harvard College dean, acknowledged that Harvard was not always perfect, but said it was trying to get its practices right. “I have a great deal of humility knowing that some day history will judge us,” Khurana said. “I think that’s why we are constantly asking ourselves this question: How can we do better?”
Asians were an overlooked minority despite a long history of discrimination.
Harvard University campus reflecting on the Charles River.