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Seven takeaways from the Harvard admissions ruling

A federal judge has ruled in a closely watched case that Harvard University’s admissions process does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants.
A federal judge has ruled in a closely watched case that Harvard University’s admissions process does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File 2017/Globe Staff

A federal judge has ruled in a closely watched case that Harvard University’s admissions process does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants. Here’s what we know:

■  In a 130-page order, US District Judge Allison D. Burroughs found from the “testimony of the admissions officers that there was no discrimination against Asian American applicants with respect to the admissions process as a whole and the personal ratings in particular was consistent, unambiguous, and convincing.”

■  While Harvard’s admissions program “survives strict scrutiny,” it is not perfect, according to Burroughs’s order. “The process would likely benefit from conducting implicit bias trainings for admissions officers, maintaining clear guidelines on the use of race in the admissions process, which were developed during this litigation, and monitoring and making admissions officers aware of any significant race-related statistical disparities in the rating process,” the judge wrote.

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■  Burroughs quoted famed writer Toni Morrison in her decision: “Race is the least reliable information you can have about someone. It’s real information, but it tells you next to nothing.” Burroughs’s order continued, “Although this has been said, it must become accepted and understood before we close the curtain on race conscious admissions policies. The rich diversity at Harvard and other colleges and universities and the benefits that flow from that diversity will foster the tolerance, acceptance, and understanding that will ultimately make race conscious admissions obsolete.”

■  The judge found that, “Throughout this trial and after a careful review of all exhibits and written submissions, there is no evidence of any racial animus whatsoever or intentional discrimination on the part of Harvard beyond its use of a race conscious admissions policy, nor is there any evidence that any particular admissions decision was negatively affected by Asian American identity.” According to Burroughs, a race-conscious admissions program “allows Harvard to achieve a level of robust diversity that would not otherwise be possible, at least at this time.”

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■  The plaintiff, Students for Fair Admissions, argued that “its racial balancing claim is supported by non-statistical evidence,” according to Tuesday’s decision. Specifically, the judge said the group had argued that Harvard’s admission’s leadership too often looked at documents that showed the racial composition of admitted applicants, or applicants whom Harvard was likely to admit. The plaintiff also argued that Harvard placed students on its search list and sent recruitment letters to applicants based on criteria that disfavored Asian-American applicants. According to the judge’s decision, “The recruitment letters, however, did not affect admissions decisions, and SFFA cannot maintain a viable claim for intentional discrimination based merely on the allegation that some limited number of Asian American applicants did not receive certain pieces of marketing mail.”

■  Students for Fair Admissions, according to the judge’s decision, “did not present a single admissions file that reflected any discriminatory animus, or even an application of an Asian American who it contended should have or would have been admitted absent an unfairly deflated personal rating.”

■  Burroughs also found that “removing considerations of race and ethnicity from Harvard’s admissions process entirely would deprive applicants, including Asian American applicants, of their right to advocate the value of their unique background, heritage, and perspective and would likely also deprive Harvard of exceptional students who would be less likely to be admitted without a comprehensive understanding of their background.”


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.

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