EXCLUSIVE: Leaked admissions data gives glimpse into Harvard's affirmative action practices

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This leak comes at a crucial time, as the Supreme Court of the United States prepares to repeal affirmative action. The lawsuit that led to this decision was based on evidence of discriminatory practices at Harvard, specifically against Asian students in undergraduate admissions. While today’s newly leaked data deals with graduate admissions, instead of undergraduate admissions, the principle remains the same: Harvard is discriminating against Asians.

The majority of the leaked data is considered confidential and will be redacted, such as phone numbers, names, and birthdays. The main revelation in the “Admit List Department.xlsx” file is a hidden column that identifies whether or not a student is a “Minority,” which provides us with a rare insight into the workings of an admissions process that is widely regarded as being shadowy and opaque. There were 44 students admitted to the Harvard economics department’s PhD program in 2017, of which three (7 percent of the cohort) were classified as “Minority” and eight (18 percent of the cohort) as “Lobby.” It should be noted that roughly a dozen of the admitted applicants were Asian, but none of those were tagged as “Minority”.

It would be interesting to know exactly what “Lobby” means. It may simply mean that someone on the faculty knows this particular person very well and is convinced he/she would do excellent work (which is probably a good criterion) or that this is some kind of donor connection (which is less likely, but who knows) or some general “catch-all” category for nepotism. Whatever the precise definition of “Lobby” (Harvard refuses to comment), this hidden column suggests that Harvard reserves two to three times as many spots for those with well-connected lobbying ties as it does for minorities.

“It has come to my attention that the faculty and students received an Excel spreadsheet from a staff member containing hidden columns of data,” wrote the chairman of the Department of Economics to the entire department in 2017, in an email obtained by the Post Millennial. “The data in those hidden columns is private information … I ask everyone, in the strongest possible terms, to do the right thing and leave those columns hidden. Naturally, I also ask that you do not forward that spreadsheet to anyone else.” A day later, he sent a follow-up email asking all members of the economics department to permanently delete the email and any copies of the spreadsheet that were attached to it.

The Post Millennial sent both the leaked admissions data and these two emails to Harvard in order to verify their authenticity and ensure that they had not been tampered with. Despite numerous attempts, Harvard declined to comment or reply. Prior to publication, a draft of this entire article was shared with both the Harvard Economics department leadership and the Harvard communications team, and they were given several opportunities to identify and correct any factual inaccuracies, but they declined to do so.

In addition to the hidden minority flag column, there was also a hidden column showing internal discussions about the admitted PhD students.

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