Fred Hargadon, Princeton’s dean of admission for 15 years and such a dominant figure in college admissions that he was known as the “dean of deans,” died Jan. 15. He was 80 and lived in Princeton.
Renowned for the personal attention he gave each application, “Dean Fred” welcomed successful students with an acceptance letter beginning: “Yes!” In his honor, the word was carved into a stone at the entrance of Hargadon Hall in Whitman College. The strong relationships he built with students, especially with athletes, continued during their time on campus; he was an honorary member of several classes and gave the Baccalaureate address just before he retired in 2003.
“It was extraordinary how many students he kept in touch with,” said former president Harold Shapiro *64, who hired the tall and often rumpled Hargadon in 1988. “For many students, he is the person they remember the most from Princeton.”
Hargadon’s tenure at Princeton spanned a period of change and increasing competition in college admissions. When he arrived — after five years heading admissions at Swarthmore and 15 years at Stanford, then working at the College Board — about 17 percent of applicants were accepted to Princeton each year. When he left, the admission rate was about 10 percent. He was a strong supporter of binding early-decision admission over early action.
“The academic strength of the student body grew measurably” during his time as dean, said Professor Nancy Weiss Malkiel, the former dean of the college. “The student body became much closer to being balanced in terms of gender and much more diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, and socioeconomically.”
Hargadon had his critics. He retired in 2003, a year after admission-staff members used applicants’ Social Security numbers and birth dates to check their admission status at Yale. After a University investigation, Hargadon apologized in a statement for the “unwarranted breach in confidentiality.” A book about admission in the Ivy League, The Chosen by Jerome Karabel, suggested that policies put in place by Hargadon to bolster Princeton’s competitive position inadvertently led to a decline in the number of Jewish students at Princeton. Hargadon disagreed sharply.
Despite the criticism, the adoration among Princeton alumni remained. After learning of his death, one alumna wrote on Facebook, “Thanks for taking a chance on me, Dean Fred.”