Harvard Lawyers Discuss Admissions Trial With Students Behind Closed Doors


Two top lawyers who defended Harvard in the recently concluded admissions trial — William F. Lee ’72 and Felicia H. Ellsworth — discussed the case in an off-the-record meeting with College students and Lowell House affiliates Wednesday evening.

Members of the press were not permitted to attend. Roughly a dozen students who sat in on the discussion declined to comment on the substance of the conversation as they left the event Wednesday evening.

Lowell administrators advertised the gathering over the House email list and provided students with copies of transcripts of the trial’s opening and closing statements as part of a specially curated “reading guide.” The email encouraged students to come with questions for the lawyers. The crowd at the event numbered roughly 30.

The discussion came several weeks after the Nov. 2 conclusion of the Harvard admissions trial, which drew national scrutiny and media attention and revealed intricate — and once closely guarded — details of the College’s admissions process.


The case opened in Nov. 2014 when anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions filed a complaint against the University, alleging the College discriminates against Asian-American applicants in its admissions process. Harvard has repeatedly denied these allegations.

The outcome of the trial will likely remain uncertain until spring 2019, after SFFA and Harvard file new documents in the case and Judge Allison D. Burroughs hears an additional set of arguments from both sides in February. Both sides have said that, should the case not fall in their favor, they are prepared to appeal the decision.

In recent months, Harvard students have followed the case closely. Several student organizations hosted on-campus events, while other students participated in public demonstrations. Five current undergraduates even volunteered to testify in support of Harvard in court.

Amid ongoing student interest in the case, the University’s lawyers used the event as an opportunity to share information and their thoughts about the trial with students — but without the attention of the media.

Emma K. A. Rogge ’20, a student attendee who said she has been following news reports about the trial, said the lawyers’ presentation left her with “a more nuanced perspective” on the admissions controversy.

“We had a chance to see some of the detailed breakdowns of some of the analysis, which was very interesting,” Rogge said.

Rogge said she left the event with an even more positive feeling about the way the University conducts its admissions process — and the way it has defended itself in court.

“I think I'm just further impressed with how Harvard has handled this,” Rogge said. “I think it has further entrenched my views rather than changed them.”

—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @delanofranklin_.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.

—Staff writer Samuel W. Zwickel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @samuel_zwickel.