Playing Rough In The Ivies

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If there is any competition more cutthroat than that of high-school seniors to get into the top Ivy League universities, it is the competition among the universities themselves for the gold-plated applicants with brilliant resumes, perfect boards and... umm... famous grandfathers. So it was more shocking than surprising when the Yale Daily News reported last week that a top official of Princeton's admissions office had accessed the supposedly secure Web site on which Yale posted its acceptances in April. Among the 11 students whose status was checked were Ara Parseghian, grandson of the famed Notre Dame football coach--and one Lauren Bush, granddaughter of one president and niece of another.

What no one can figure out, though, is what associate dean Stephen LeMenager and possibly others wanted to do with the information. Knowing in advance whether a student had been accepted by a rival college could give Princeton an edge in the all-important race for "yield": the percentage of admitted students who actually attend (if X has been accepted at Yale, her first choice, then you can safely turn her down). But Princeton had already chosen its next class by the time LeMenager logged on to the site, armed with just the birth dates and Social Security numbers of the applicants. He told the Yale newspaper that the stunt was just an "innocent way for us to check out the security." But Yale, which learned about the breach from Princeton administrators during an Ivy League deans' meeting in June, didn't think it was all that innocent: after investigating, it turned its findings over to the FBI, which is now trying to determine what crimes, if any, were committed. Nor did Princeton itself, which has apologized to the students and suspended LeMenager. "People are upset and concerned and many are quite sad," said Marilyn Marks, a Princeton spokeswoman.

Still, the only apparent loss was to those students who didn't get to see the Yale bulldog bark out a welcome when they accessed the site themselves; the program played the welcome only once. "I'm still very excited about attending Princeton in the fall," says Scott Grzenczyk of St. Louis, who was one of the 11 students. "This really isn't a big deal to me." Lauren Bush, a fashion model and the daughter of the president's brother Neil, could not be reached for comment, or to confirm a Houston Chronicle report that she's enrolling in Princeton.

It would, of course, be a nice coup for Princeton if she breaks with Bush family tradition and packs her bags for New Jersey. And maybe that hope is what inspired LeMenager or someone else to log on to her page, which was accessed four times from various computers on the Princeton campus. But it's still not clear how anyone could have used information gleaned from the site. "Princeton would have no reason to do anything like this," says Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. "This strikes me as nothing more than sheer human curiosity."

And a reminder, perhaps, that even the guardians of the nation's most elite institutions can be as dumb as anyone.

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