Affirmative Action Trial Exposes Harvard’s Secrets

Harvard University’s trial regarding affirmative action in its admissions practices has exposed some of the school’s most closely held secrets. The case is currently being heard in federal court in Boston. US District Judge Allison Burroughs will make a ruling at the end of the trial.

Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a group that opposes affirmative action, sued Harvard in 2014. The group alleged in its complaint that the school discriminates against Asian-American applicants by rating them lower on personality measures that factor into admissions. The SFFA is asking for race to be eliminated as an admissions factor altogether in a challenge to affirmative action as a whole. The case could ultimately reach the Supreme Court.

According to the group’s complaint, a 2013 draft report from Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research showed that from 1995 to 2013, Asian-American applicants saw the lowest acceptance rate of any racial group that applied. SFFA says that Asian applicants would have been admitted in much larger numbers if the college had used academics alone. Harvard has claimed that the elaborate set of criteria it uses for the admissions process doesn’t lend itself to discrimination against anybody.

A graphic detailing some of Harvard’s own past research, titled “Difference in Average Test Scores and Ratings for White and Asian Applicants,” was entered into evidence during the trial. According to the graphic, Asian-American applicants far surpassed whites in every category, including SAT scores and academics, but faltered in the “personal” rating. That rating encompassed recommendations by teachers and counselors, personal essays, and interviews.

SFFA says the report shows that Harvard engages in “racial balancing,” using the personal rating to cap the number of Asian-Americans admitted each year. A school official testified that the report was not a comprehensive analysis of who gets in and why. According to Harvard, Asian-Americans, which make up roughly 5.6 percent of the US population, are nearly 23 percent of this year’s freshman class.

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