College matriculation binders deprive students of privacy


Sammi Handler

college binder
Credit: Mady Madison/Chronicle

In the competitive nature of the school, we make decisions every day about how much we want our peers to know about our academic records, but that gets taken away from us once we graduate.

In each of the dean offices, big black binders sit on bookshelves with pages titled by the name of the university and an anonymous list of the students who applied. The binders list each applicant by gender, weighted and unweighted grade point average, reported SAT or ACT score and best subject test score.

The information also includes admission or rejection decisions and to which specific program, if any, the applicant applied and whether the school rejected or accepted him or her for early or regular decision.

Sammi Handler

Already, the anonymity does not matter anymore. There is enough information for younger students to be able to connect the dots between the last year’s graduates currently and the “anonymous” students. But of course, there’s more.

Next to some GPAs, there’s an asterisk indicating that another factor, such as sports or legacy, played a large role in that applicant’s admission, in some ways diminishing the overall accomplishment of admission. Now the anonymity is really there only for decency’s sake.

Thinking that the binders provide anonymity and privacy means discounting the fact that, yes, at Harvard-Westlake we do talk to each other. We generally know who’s getting recruited and who has parents who are legacy at X, Y or Z Ivy League school. We hear who got in early, and we generally know where our friends are applying.

Also, any student who was the only one to apply to a college now has his or her academic information available for any other student to see. And, seniors cannot request to have their information omitted from these binders that reduce them to the school that they were admitted to.

Sure, current college freshmen are not around to be offended or hear hurtful comments about their grades and test scores, but as the administration pushes the acceptance of the new mission statement, which is meant to refocus the goal of each student’s education around learning rather than just admission to an elite school, these binders diminishe a student’s entire academic career to a few numbers and a school.

I’ve frequently entered a dean’s office with students peering intently into the binder, pointing to pages and saying “I can’t believe he had a 4.3!” or “Oh, that’s her. She only got in for track.” Even from students who have never opened the binder, I hear “Can you believe he had a 4.5 and was rejected from Harvard? “

Some do use the information as a source to guide them throughout their college processes, but others use the information as a way to make themselves feel better as they’re in the midst of applications: “At least I didn’t think I could get into Columbia with a 2.9 like she did.” There’s a reason we have passwords that prevent others from logging in and viewing our grades or emails that contain our test scores: privacy.

I understand that the binder is meant to be a resource for students, but it would be just as easy to print out a range of scores and GPAs, with a note that says there are some exceptions. Or, the information could be kept as a resource for the deans, but not available for students to peruse.

Clearly the administration and the deans thought it was important to try to protect the students since their names have not been not printed at all, but anonymity is just a façade when virtually all other information present is enough to uncover who the real person is.