‘Lopping,’ ‘Tips’ and the ‘Z-List’: Bias Lawsuit Explores Harvard’s Admissions Secrets
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 American dream, saying, “Someone we’ll fight over w/ Princeton, I’d guess.”
他的SAT考试、三次SAT专科考试和九次大学先修课程考试成绩无懈可击，在592名高中同届同学里排名第一。负责审核其哈佛大学申请书的招生官员称他是“公认的尖桩篱笆”——也就是美国梦的化身，这位官员说，“我猜我们得和普林斯顿争这个人。”（推荐阅读：美国文化 | 白篱笆、大房子和美国梦）
But in the end, the student was wait-listed and did not get in.
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 “dockets,” “the lop list,” “tips,” “DE,” the “Z-list” and the “dean’s interest list” — and maintain a culling system in which factors like where applicants are from, whether their parents went to Harvard, how much money they have and how they fit the school’s goals for diversity may be just as important as scoring a perfect 1600 on the SAT.
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. Hundreds of admissions documents have been filed in the suit — over the university’s objections that they could reveal trade secrets — and many sections that were previously redacted have been ordered unsealed in recent weeks.
“I hope that no student who doesn’t get accepted to Harvard — by the way, I wasn’t accepted to Harvard College out of high school; I wouldn’t let me in, even today — what you hope is that people do not read this as if it’s a validation either of who they are nor an invalidation of their potential or their achievement,” said Rakesh Khurana, the dean of Harvard College, who went to Cornell as an undergraduate.
The lawsuit, brought by an anti-affirmative action group called Students for Fair Admissions, has revived the national debate over race-conscious admissions, which is playing out from colleges down to elementary schools.
这场诉讼由一个名为大学生公平录取(Student for Fair Admissions)的反歧视行动小组提起，它重新启动了在入学录取时考虑种族因素的全国性辩论，其范围涵盖了从大学直到小学。
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.
该辩论可以追溯到1950年代到60年代的民权运动。小马丁·路德·金博士(Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)于1968年被暗杀是一个转折点，促使大学加倍努力，令其学生构成更能代表美国社会。
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.
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. Of the 26,000 domestic applicants for the Class of 2019 (the lawsuit is not concerned with international students), about 3,500 had perfect SAT math scores, 2,700 had perfect SAT verbal scores, and more than 8,000 had straight A’s.
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.” And an alumni interviewer also rates the candidates.
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 Asian-Americans goes to the heart of the current litigation. A 1990 report by the Education Department found that Harvard was not giving tips for being Asian-American. A 2013 internal report by Harvard found that being Asian-American was negatively correlated with admission, as did an expert analysis for the plaintiffs. But using a different statistical approach, Harvard’s expert found a modest bump for two subgroups of Asian-Americans — women and applicants from California — belying, Harvard said, the overall claim of discrimination.
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 are not the familiar lists from academic deans recognizing students with good grades. These lists are named for the dean and director of admissions, and include the names of candidates who are of interest to donors or have connections to Harvard, according to the court papers.
The final decisions are made by a committee of about 40 admissions officers over two or three weeks in March. Meeting in a conference room, they argue over candidates who are “on the bubble” between admission and rejection.
Court filings also explore Harvard’s little-known Z-list, a sort of back door to admissions.
Harvard is reticent about the Z-list, and much of the information pertaining to it in court papers has been redacted. The list consists of applicants who are borderline academically, the plaintiffs say, but whom Harvard wants to admit. They often have connections. They may be “Z-ed” (yes, a verb) off the wait-list, and are guaranteed admission on the condition that they defer for a year.
About 50 to 60 students a year were admitted through the Z-list for the Classes of 2014 to 2019. They were for the most part white, often legacies or students on the dean’s or director’s list, the plaintiffs say.
Chuck Hughes, an admissions officer at Harvard from 1995-2000, described a special review given to minority applicants while he was there.
Early in his tenure, he said, all competitive applicants had their files studied by at least two readers. He said some minority applicants would also have their file reviewed by a third reader who was considering the racial composition of the entire class.
“If there was uncertainty on a case in which there were candidates that might have represented minority interests — an Asian-American, an African-American, a Hispanic or a Native American candidate — those would be passed on to someone who was looking at the entire slate of candidates in that particular demographic pool,” Hughes said.
Hughes said that practice ended early in his time at Harvard.
But the court papers describe a continuing process called “a lop,” which the plaintiffs say is used to shape the demographic profile of the class.
In a response filed in court Friday, Harvard said that all information in an application file is considered during the lop, and that lopping is not used to control the racial makeup of the class.
The plaintiffs say that the personal rating — which considers an applicant’s character and personality — is the most insidious of Harvard’s admissions metrics. They say that Asian-Americans are routinely described as industrious and intelligent, but unexceptional and indistinguishable — characterizations that recall painful stereotypes for many people of Asian descent. (The applicant who was the “proverbial picket fence” was Asian-American.)
Khurana, the Harvard College dean, acknowledged that Harvard was not always perfect, but said it was trying to get its practices right.