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Among those rejected from Harvard: the judge in the Harvard trial

Harvard University rejects about 95 percent of its applicants annually. Add one more name to that list: Allison Dale Burroughs.JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE/File

Harvard University rejects about 95 percent of its applicants annually. Add one more name to that list: Allison Dale Burroughs.

Burroughs is the judge presiding in the trial over whether Harvard discriminates against Asian-American students, and she once applied to Harvard.

Likes tens of thousands of other American high school seniors every year, Burroughs received a rejection letter from Harvard.

Burroughs instead went to Middlebury College and graduated from the Vermont institution in 1983.

Burroughs, who has been overseeing the case since March 2015, mentioned her Harvard connection at a pre-trial conference in 2016. But her application and rejection became an issue whispered about this week at a morning sidebar with attorneys and in the media gallery after an anonymous tipster e-mailed reporters questioning Burroughs’s impartiality.


Burroughs’s Harvard application was first reported by the New York Times.

The judge did not respond to questions sent to her clerk about the e-mail.

But back in January 2016, early in the case, as Students for Fair Admissions was seeking student-level data for its lawsuit against Harvard, the issue came up.

Harvard, in an effort to explain that the request was excessive, said at the time that the database of applicants contained some 1,600 fields of information, according to a court transcript.

“I don’t know if I should be starting to feel better or worse about the fact that I didn’t get into Harvard,” Burroughs said to some laughter according to the transcript. “If there is 1,600 fields, I could have been deficient in a lot of them. If there is only 10, I feel like I hopefully would have made the cut.”

Harvard officials said they don’t know who sent the anonymous e-mail earlier this week.

“Harvard is not aware of the source of this information, and has not asked the judge to recuse from this case,” said Rachael Dane, a university spokeswoman. “Harvard believes that Judge Burroughs has been and will continue to be fair and impartial to both parties in this case.”


Adam Mortara, an attorney with Students for Fair Admissions, said his group has no issue with Burroughs’s objectivity.

“SFFA has the utmost confidence that Judge Burroughs can decide this case fairly,” Mortara said.

Students for Fair Admissions sued Harvard claiming that its admissions process discriminates against Asian-American students by limiting their numbers. The university also uses a personal rating to evaluate applicants that disadvantages Asian-American students, the organization said.

The trial has shed light on Harvard’s famously secretive admissions process and delved deep into what traits the university is looking for in potential students. Charts, e-mails, testimony, along with essays and teacher recommendations from applicants have provided a window in the past week on what the university considers Harvard material.

With more than 42,000 applications annually and just over 1,600 seats, a lot of students don’t make that cut. This past spring, Harvard’s admissions rate was just shy of 5 percent of applicants.

In September 2017, just months after she had made national headlines by blocking President Trump’s executive order barring entry to the United States for refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Burroughs offered students at her alma mater some advice about rejection.

Burroughs reflected on her numerous failed applications to the Senate recommendation committees for a federal judgeship, according to the Middlebury College student newspaper. In 2014, Senator Elizabeth Warren recommended Burroughs for a seat to the US District Court for Massachusetts.


“People ask me, ‘What was your juice, how did you get in, who did you know?’ ” Burroughs said, according to the newspaper report. “The only thing I can really attribute it to is sheer perseverance. I went at it and at it and at it. There’s really no shame in trying and being rejected.”

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.