The Ivy Coach Daily

April 14, 2023

The Life Legacy of William Fitzsimmons

This is a view of Harvard Yard.
The United States Supreme Court will soon decide the fate of Affirmative Action (photo credit: Chensiyuan).

Previously Published on November 4, 2018:

With the United States Supreme Court set to decide the legality of Affirmative Action towards the end of 2023 with a landmark decision on the horizon in the Students For Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College case (along with the Students For Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina case), we thought we’d profile the man charged with leading Harvard’s admissions office.

Harvard’s Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid, William “Fitz” Fitzsimmons, has been the decider-in-chief of Harvard’s undergraduate admissions office for 37 years — nearly four full decades. Heck, he’s been leading the Harvard admissions office throughout Ivy Coach’s entire run in elite college admissions, which has spanned 31 years.

So Harvard’s admissions practices and the thousands of admitted students who have gone on to graduate from Harvard over the last few decades are, in many ways, Dean Fitzsimmons’ life’s work or his opus, if you will: Mr. Fitzsimmons’ Opus.

Back in 2018, Dean Fitzsimmons’ life’s work was on trial in federal court, as Students For Fair Admissions argued that Harvard discriminates against Asian American applicants in its admissions process. It’s a claim he categorically denied at the time. It’s a claim he categorically denies to this day, as America’s highest court has scrutinized Harvard’s admissions practices, which may not hold constitutional muster.

Who Is Harvard’s Dean William Fitzsimmons?

So who exactly is Dean “Fitz” Fitzsimmons, and what makes him tick? Several years ago, Laura Krantz wrote of Dean Fitzsimmons in a Boston Globe piece on his legacy at Harvard, “He graduated from the school in 1967, in an era when it largely catered to the children of the East Coast elite. Today Harvard awards free tuition to all low-income families and scours small towns in middle America for new talent.”

Krantz continued, “Growing up just 20 miles from Cambridge, he had never heard about Harvard until he read about it in an encyclopedia. Now he golfs with millionaires…Talk to people who have known Fitz, as everyone calls him, since he was an 18-year-old with a severe crew cut, and they’ll tell you he’s still the same man. He has traded the buzzed hair for graying temples and wire-framed spectacles, but he has managed to guard the humility, fairness, and boyish sense of humor that have been his since childhood.”

Dean Fitzsimmons Is A Truth-Teller

We at Ivy Coach believe that Dean Fitzsimmons is a man of great integrity. He wishes to make Harvard — his Harvard — the most diverse and inclusive university in the world. Indeed, he should be commended for his many efforts in stewarding this dream for the university because the rest of America’s schools tend to follow in lockstep when Harvard leads. Each highly selective university in America has grown more diverse and inclusive over the last four decades — very much in Harvard’s image.

But we also believe that Asian American applicants face unjust discrimination in Harvard’s admissions process and in the admissions processes of every highly selective school in the land. Do we assert there’s a quota, a cap on the number of Asian American applicants admitted to Harvard? No, Dean Fitzsimmons is telling the truth when he has long insisted there is no quota as there once was for Jewish applicants at Harvard well before Dean Fitzsimmons’ time.

Implicit Bias Against Asian American Applicants Is Real

Yet regardless of a lack of a quota, Dean Fitzsimmons has never publicly acknowledged that admissions officers often operate with implicit bias when evaluating the applications of Asian American applicants. After all, admitting as much could jeopardize the very practice of Affirmative Action at Harvard and all universities from sea to shining sea.

And that’s a key reason Harvard finds itself defending its admissions practices not only for itself but for all of America’s universities, why the fate of Harvard’s consideration of race in admissions decision-making is now very much in the hands of America’s conservative-leaning highest court. When these nine justices rule on the legality of Affirmative Action, they will also be ruling on the life’s legacy of Dean William “Fitz” Fitzsimmons. Do stay tuned!

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