If you relied on an e-mail notification on your admission to college last week,
you may or may not have been accepted–or rejected–by the college of your choice.
A faulty e-mailing program is being blamed for thousands of e-mails sent to
people in the University of California system and other nationwide clients of
the Collegiate Electronic Notification Service, also known as CENS.
Because of cutbacks in public financial support in California and other states,
schools stopped using the fat letter (acceptances) or skinny letter (rejections)
system sent through the U.S. Postal Service.
Instead, institutions saved money using mass e-mail providers like CENS. This
year, however, because of varying admissions standards around the country,
including the use of so-called “color-blind” admissions policies, the software
experienced a massive glitch.
It couldn’t figure out the right candidates.
“We had a particular problem with the last name Lee,” said Thomas D. Hoover, a
senior VP for CENS.
“Our software put the Lees into three batches, buckets, or bowls, if you will.
There were the Asian Lees, the White Lees like Robert E. Lee, and the Spike
“Some of the Asian Lees who were rejected–because there are too many Asians in
some schools–got mixed into the Spike Lee pile, which were all accepted. That
shouldn’t have happened.”
But the opposite happened to the Spike Lee pile. “All those Lees who were
accepted, but were thought to be Asian Lees–they got rejected,” said Hoover.
“CENS regrets the error.”
Hoover said everyone in the miscellaneous or “Janet Leigh” pile got the right
Hoover explained that since most color-blind policies were intended to improve
white acceptance rates, almost 100% of the White Lees were sent acceptance
e-mails, and that may have been a mistake as well.
“We just don’t know if some Bruce Lees or even some Spike Lees might have
sneaked into that pile,” said Hoover. “Because of color-blind admissions
policies instituted by California’s Prop 209, we weren’t really allowed to
verify in time without violating the law. And some other schools were on break
and had everything on autopilot. We just didn’t expect the software to respond
the way it did with so many Lees in the system.”
Hoover said the software was outsourced to a company in India where they didn’t
understand the color-blind concept. An American colleague told them about the
Robert E. Lee and Spike Lee algorithm, which apparently still needs some
He also said there were problems with the surname Lew.
“As you may know, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is not Asian, but Caucasian,” said
Hoover. “The software gave some Asian Lews Caucasian acceptances, when they
should have received Asian Lew rejections.”
Hoover said the Lew issue was compounded by a rash of Loos and Lius. He said
while some applicants were appropriately sent to the loo, those named Liu got a
“The L-I-U folks were all sent automatic acceptances,” said Hoover. “But that’s
because the system thought they were legacies to Long Island University.”
It was still a mistake when the application was to UCLA.
On a positive note, Hoover said there was nothing wrong with Wongs.
However, he said, all the Chins got two of everything. Hoover called it the
“We’re going to have to go through all the Asian names now,” said Hoover.
“Especially the Filipino names. We had some of them in the Spanish list, which
may have gotten applicants into some UC schools and even some Ivy League schools
that use CENS.”
“We can’t apologize enough,” said Hoover, who said schools may want to use the
post office next year as a back-up. Or have applicants use a phone, as long as
it’s not a dial-up. “A smartphone says so much more about a person,” said
Hoover, who said CENS is also considering tweeting college admissions results.
“Rejections don’t feel so bad when they’re tweeted,” Hoover said. “At least,
after the initial shock, a student could pick up some sympathetic followers on
Hoover said people should contact the schools they applied to directly this
week–by smartphone–to make sure they got the right notice.
“The good news is you may have gotten in after all,” said Hoover. “It could
resurrect your hopes. Then again, you may have actually been rejected. Bummer.”
As a public service, CENS is offering counseling services through its 800
number to aid those who didn’t apply to enough backup schools. The service is
free on April 1st, and April 1st only.
“For obvious reasons,” said Hoover.
Groups have already called Hoover to complain. Mabel Fat-Rothstein of the
Harvard Asian Americans for Healthy Affirmative Action (HAAHAA) said she wants
to make sure the mistake never happens again. “Fool me once, shame on you,” said
Fat-Rothstein. “Fool me twice, shame on me.”