Murder closes door

April 28, 1995

United States universities and colleges are expected to think carefully about their admissions procedures following the case of the student admitted to Harvard who had murdered her mother and concealed that fact from university authorities.

Many universities - Harvard included - do not ask students on their application forms whether they have been convicted of a crime. But they may decide to do so following the case of Gina Grant, 19, whose admission was rescinded when the university found she had lied about her past.

A spokesman for Harvard said that the questions asked of applicants would be reviewed this year, as they are every year. But no special review was being set up as a result of the Grant case.

Ms Grant was such a star student that Harvard snapped her up. She attends a high school in Boston near the university and was considered so extraordinary that the Boston Globe wrote about her in a series of profiles about children who overcame adversity. She was described as an orphan who not only did well at school but tutored other children.

What Harvard did not know was that she was an orphan because she had bludgeoned her alcoholic mother to death with a candlestick in South Carolina. Her father had died of cancer in 1987.

The university learned of the crime when a bundle of newspaper cuttings was delivered anonymously.

Ms Grant pleaded no contest to the charges when she was 14 and served six months in jail. She then moved to Boston, and her juvenile record was sealed.

Harvard says that it rescinded her offer of a place, not because she killed her mother, but because she lied. During her interview with a university alumnus last year, she had said her mother died in a car accident.

She had also stated on her application form that she had never been on probation. That was not true. She was on probation until the age of 18.

Most university admissions officers think Harvard had little choice but to reject her, given the facts of the case and the intense competition for places. But there is concern that, if Grant had been honest, she would not have been accepted either.

Critics of Harvard are asking whether people who commit crimes as juveniles should not be entitled to higher education, particularly if they have rehabilitated themselves.

Intense debate is taking place within the university. Last week the Kennedy School of Government was staging a forum at which the case was to be discussed. Members of the staff of the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, are divided. John Silber, the controversial president of Boston University, has already offered Ms Grant a place at his institution. Columbia University, in New York, has also apparently made her an offer.

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