Harvard disputes claims of admissions bias against Asian-Americans, including Indian-Americans

Harvard image (Photo: harvard.edu)

Harvard University disputed anew on Friday allegations that it discriminates against Asian-Americans when selecting an undergraduate class, asserting in court papers that legal foes had failed to mount a persuasive case in a lawsuit seeking to end consideration of race in admissions.

The university is contesting an effort by the group Students for Fair Admissions to obtain a ruling without trial in the suit pending in federal court in Boston.

Harvard said the group’s motion for an immediate ruling, filed last month, was “not remotely plausible” and that it offered “a misleading narrative” about the university’s methods and record in admissions. The university says race is one factor among many that it weighs in annually assembling a freshman class of roughly 1,650 students from more than 40,000 applicants. Demographic diversity, it says, yields crucial benefits for the campus by exposing students to varying viewpoints.

“The evidence leaves no doubt that Harvard permissibly seeks those educational benefits in the flexible, non-mechanical manner permitted by the Supreme Court,” the university said in its latest legal brief.

Students for Fair Admissions claims that Harvard has imposed an artificial – and illegal – ceiling on the number of Asian-Americans it enrolls through a process tilted in favor of applicants from other racial and ethnic groups. To build its argument, the group obtained access to tens of thousands of pages of internal documents and a database with information on more than 200,000 applicants to Harvard over several years.

The plaintiff hired a Duke University economist, Peter Arcidiacono, to examine the data. He concluded that Asian-American applicants suffer a “significant penalty” relative to white students when Harvard rates their personal qualities and applications and when it makes admission decisions. Harvard, in turn, hired an economist from the University of California at Berkeley, David Card, to conduct a separate review. Card disputed Arcidiacano’s findings and said the Duke economist had neglected to consider data that would have yielded different conclusions.

The dueling analyses were made public last month in briefs filed with U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs. Both sides have asked Burroughs for summary judgment. But most observers expect the case to go to trial. The case has featured lengthy wrangling over how much of Harvard’s admissions process will be revealed – a subject of intense interest to many college-bound students.

“Students for Fair Admissions looks forward to presenting our case at trial in October at which time the remaining redacted data, memos, emails and depositions Harvard refuses to disclose will be made public,” Edward Blum, president of the group, said in an email Friday. He said the group planned to file another brief Monday in the case.

The suit, filed in November 2014, could have significant repercussions for higher education because many colleges consider race and ethnicity in what they call “holistic” reviews of applications. Blum, a well-known opponent of affirmative action, has helped organize similar litigation challenging admission practices at the universities of North Carolina and Texas.

Students for Fair Admissions, based in Arlington, Virginia, describes itself as a nonprofit membership group of students, parents and others opposed to racial classifications and preferences in college admissions.

Other interested parties, including the Trump administration, could weigh in soon on the Harvard case. Separately, the Justice Department is investigating Harvard’s admission practices.

In the latest admission cycle, 42,749 applicants sought to enter Harvard’s Class of 2022. The university offered admission to 1,962, fewer than 5 percent. About 1,650 were projected to accept the offer and enroll in the fall. Of those admitted, 22.7 percent were Asian-American, 15.5 percent were African-American, 12.2 percent were Latino, and 2 percent were Native American. Twelve percent were international students. Harvard says the Asian-American share in the admitted class has grown significantly in the last decade.

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