Monday, July 9, 2012

HARVARD | Admissions Changes, 1958-2012

L to R: John Tepper Marlin, Mrs. Robert
Swezey, Jeremiah Brady. Two Portsmouth '58
alumni at Harvard 1962 50th Reunion,
and the widow of a third. 
I greatly enjoyed my 50th Harvard Reunion in May. Last month I commented to the East Hampton Star on the great, and very visible, changes in Harvard admissions since I embarked on my undergraduate years in 1958. Here is the letter as published. 

Changing Composition [of Harvard Undergraduates]

    Springs, June 25, 2012

To The [East Hampton] Star:
     Helen Rattray’s report (Connections, June 14) on Chris Cory’s 50th reunion at Yale prompts me to compare a couple of her comments to last month’s 50th reunion at Harvard, which I attended with my wife, Alice.
    It is instructive to watch in the parade of alumni/ae the changing composition of the classes before and after 1962. The 1960s saw a huge disruption in college admissions. In the 1950s there appears to have been a modest push for more Catholics at Harvard, but this is not so visible in the parade. The push in the 1960s for more minorities and in the 1970s for more women caused much more consternation.
    I attended a small Catholic prep school, Portsmouth Priory (now Abbey), having spent three years already at another Benedictine school in England. The Class of 1962 at Harvard included seven graduates of Portsmouth, two of them via advanced placement. Given that the Portsmouth senior class numbered 35 students, the school was pleased.
     Meanwhile, while Yale had two (some say three) African-American students in the class of 1962, Harvard had 11, with a slightly larger class than Yale’s. The 50th reunion attendance in Sanders Theater was 100-percent white, as far as I could tell. One of the Harvard 11, W. Haywood Burns, was elected a 1962 class marshal and went on to become dean of the City College of New York Law School at Queens College. However, he died at 55 years of age in a 1996 Cape Town car crash.
    Once the civil rights era of the 1960s took hold under President Kennedy, affirmative action in admitting minorities became the new goal. But within a few years, the search for gender equality hit Harvard Yard. In 1970, the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving U.S. women the right to vote, was celebrated with a huge parade in New York City that featured both Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. It had taken 50 years between the 15th Amendment enfranchisement of black males until the 19th Amendment. Young women in 1970 were not going to wait that long again to press for equal opportunity in college admissions.
    The story of the struggle at Harvard over Radcliffe admissions during the years before and after 1970 was told in April 2012 by Helen Lefkowich Horo­witz, a college dean, who received her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1969. Students and the National Organization for Women campaigned for an equal male-female ratio at Harvard when the ratio of men to women at Harvard was fixed at 4 to 1.
    To understand what the women were up against then, here is what the dean of freshmen, F. Skiddy von Stade, no doubt exhausted by the implications of a rapidly changing composition of the freshman class, had to say about the idea of admitting equal numbers of men and women:
    When I see bright, well-educated, but relatively dull housewives who attended the Seven Sisters, I honestly shudder at the thought of changing the balance of males versus females at Harvard. . . . Quite simply, I do not see highly educated women making startling strides in contributing to our society in the foreseeable future. They are not, in my opinion, going to stop getting married and/or having children. They will fail in their present role as women if they do.
    Ms. Horowitz comments:
I’m sure his niece, the great mezzo Frederica von Stade, would have shaken her head at this, if her schedule permitted.
    The dean of admissions in 1970 issued a report that opposed changing the 4-to-1 ratio. But five years later the Strauch Committee recommended gender-blind admissions and this seems to be, formally, the rule now.
    Are there still quotas at Harvard? Formally, no more. But the admissions office would doubtless be forgiven for keeping on eye on the composition of the class to avoid surprise imbalances at the end of the process.
    The unconfirmed scuttlebutt is that the anti-merit quotas that used to keep out New York City Jewish kids are now most likely to be keeping the numbers down on admitting so many talented Koreans applying from overseas or Korean-American families in the United States. I am pleased to say that a Korean-American from the Harvard Class of 1962 was very much present at the 50th reunion.
    Sincerely,
    JOHN TEPPER MARLIN