Judge: Harvard’s Admissions Process Doesn’t Discriminate Against Asian Americans

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A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Harvard University does not discriminate against Asian Americans in its admissions process.

In response to a suit filed by Students for Fair Admissions, U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs said that Harvard’s admissions process is “not perfect” but passes constitutional muster, The Los Angeles Times reports. She said there is “no evidence of any racial animus whatsoever” and no evidence that any admission decision was “negatively affected by Asian American identity.”

The allegation was that Asian American applicants were held to a higher standard in admissions while preference was given to African American and Hispanic students with poorer grades.

At issue was a subjective “personal rating” that Harvard assigns to applicants. The suit argued that Asian Americans, despite being academically qualified, consistently receive lower personal ratings because of racial bias.

Harvard’s own analysis found no evidence of bias.

Students for Fair Admissions filed the lawsuit in 2014. A three-week trial was held in Boston Federal Court in the fall of 2018. Final arguments were made on Feb. 13.

Edward Blum, president of SFFA, said, “Students for Fair Admissions is disappointed that the court has upheld Harvard’s discriminatory admissions policies. We believe that the documents, emails, data analysis and depositions SFFA presented at trial compellingly revealed Harvard’s systematic discrimination against Asian American applicants.”

Blum added, “SFFA will appeal this decision to the First Court of Appeals and, if necessary, to the U.S Supreme Court.”

SFFA’s mission is “to support and participate in litigation that will restore the original principles of our nation’s civil rights movement: A student’s race and ethnicity should not be factors that either harm or help that student to gain admission to a competitive university.”

Critics of SFFA say that Blum, who was behind lawsuits to ban affirmative action at other colleges, is not really interested in the welfare of Asian American students. During the trial in the Harvard case, there was no testimony from students who had allegedly faced discrimination in admissions.

Support for Ruling

Asian American civil rights groups that support affirmative action applauded the ruling. Asian Americans Advancing Justice said that the decision “reassures public and private universities across the country that the measured consideration of race in the application process is a valid means of evaluating a student’s qualities and achievements, providing equal opportunity, and ensuring diversity on campus.”

“Today’s decision is a critical victory for Asian American students, who benefit from affirmative action and support race-conscious admissions policies,” said Aarti Kohli, executive director of Advancing Justice–Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco. “While we must do more to ensure that Asian American students do not face unequal opportunities through harassment, stereotyping and language barriers, the use of race-conscious admissions policies — which safeguard against discrimination — is an important step.”

Last year, Advancing Justice, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Lawyers for Civil Rights and pro bono counsel Arnold & Porter filed an amicus brief on behalf of Asian Americans and other students of color at Harvard who support race-conscious admissions.

During the trial, four students testified regarding how they benefited directly from Harvard’s race-conscious admissions process and why the consideration of race in college admissions is a safeguard against racial discrimination.

“As an Asian American, affirmative action helped give me a fair shot in Harvard’s application process,” said Sally Chen, who testified in support of Harvard. “The court made the right decision for Asian Americans, for diversity in education, and for all of the students like me who believe race is an important part of our identity and something we deserve to be able to share. The fight for racial equity is far from over. I will continue to fight for race-conscious policies on behalf of other Asian American students at Harvard and across other college campuses.”

Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chair Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena) released the following statement:

“I am pleased that a federal judge found there was no evidence of discrimination against Asian American applicants in Harvard University’s admissions process. The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus is committed to promoting diversity, transparency, and opportunity for all in higher education admissions, which is why we immediately met with Harvard University’s president last year to discuss our concerns over allegations that Harvard’s admissions policy discriminated against Asian Americans. Since then, we have been following this case closely because we believe that all students deserve access to a strong education.

“It is shameful that the educational playing field remains unequal for so many students of color, including many within the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community who continue to face significant barriers to attaining a college degree. For instance, only 14% of Laotians, 16% of Cambodians, and 19% of Pacific Islanders have a bachelor’s degree. These educational disparities show us why it is important to expand opportunities to higher education for all students, including AAPIs, who have benefited from race-conscious admissions policies that help to level the playing field.

“While CAPAC will always oppose illegal efforts to impose racial quotas or discriminate against specific racial or ethnic groups in the higher education admissions process, we fully support admissions policies that enable applicants to share their whole story and help to promote diverse learning environments.

“Today’s court decision upholds long-standing Supreme Court precedent supporting the use of race as one of many factors that colleges and universities may consider in the admissions process, and we will continue to fight to ensure this policy remains in place.”

San Francisco attorney Dale Minami, who was not involved in the case, commented, “Good decision on affirmative action today. I believe there was discrimination against APIs in the subjective evaluation on personality traits, but that is a separate issue from dismantling all affirmative action programs, which is what Blum manipulated API families to demand.

“You can stop the implicit bias against APIs and preserve a program which has brought great progress for POC (people of color) not just in education but in government contracts and other areas.

“I’m sorry for the API families whose children couldn’t attend schools of their choice, but I also feel we all need to accept the value of diversity as a compelling societal interest.”

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