John wrote here about the class action lawsuit that accuses Harvard of discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions. The plaintiffs have moved for summary judgment, arguing that they should prevail based on facts not genuinely in dispute.
One fact not genuinely in dispute is that Harvard’s own researchers found statistical evidence that the University’s undergraduate application process discriminates against Asian-Americans. In 2013, the Harvard Office of Institutional Research found that Asian-Americans would comprise 43.4 percent of the admitted class if they were judged purely on their academic merit. Asian-American representation at Harvard is only about half that number.
No college I know of judges all applicants purely on their academic merit, and it’s not race discrimination to consider other factors. However, Harvard’s researchers found that, even after accounting for the school’s preferences for the children of alumni and recruited athletes, Asian-American representation fell significantly short of the expected level.
During his deposition, Mark Hansen, a former Harvard researcher, was asked, “Do you have any explanation other than intentional discrimination for your conclusions regarding the negative association between Asians and the Harvard admissions process?” Hansen responded, “I don’t.”
The findings of the Harvard researchers are confirmed by Duke University Professor Peter Arcidiacono, an expert witness for the plaintiffs. He reviewed six years of admissions data. Because recruited athletes, children of alumni, and those who find their way onto the “Dean and Directors List” are admitted at exceptionally high rates, Arcidiacono excluded them from his analysis. This enabled him to compare applicants who were similarly situated except for their race and their qualifications. His pool contained around 95 percent of applicants and more than two-thirds of admitted applicants.
Arcidiacono’s analysis showed the same discriminatory phenomenon the Harvard researchers had found. Asian-Americans are admitted at significantly lower rates than can be explained by grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, teacher recommendations, guidance counselor recommendations, and alumni interviews.
Where Asian-Americans fall short is where the discrimination occurs — in the personal qualities ratings. These are given not by people who know the applicants, or at least have talked to them, but by the Harvard admissions office. White applicants receive significantly higher ratings than Asian-Americans and Black and Hispanic applicants receive higher ratings than Whites.
The low personal ratings Asian-Americans receive are inconsistent with what Harvard’s own officials say about the personal qualities of this group. For example, Harvard’s Dean of Admissions, William Fitzsimmons, who has read every applicant file for more than 30 years, denied that Asian-Americans have fewer attractive personal qualities than other applicants. He testified that he did not believe Asian-Americans fall short of White applicants in terms of leadership, friendliness, outgoing nature, etc.
The testimony of Harvard’s Director of Admissions, Marlyn McGrath, was the same in this regard. So was the testimony of officials from elite high schools with a very high percentage of Asian-American students. And one of Harvard’s own expert witnesses, the former president of Brown University, described the view that Asian-Americans are less well-rounded than other groups of applicants as “balderdash.”
Still, Harvard contrived to give comparatively low personal qualities to Asian-American applicants. These ratings depressed the rate at which these applicants were admitted.
This is classic discrimination. Imagine if Harvard systematically rated African-American applicants lower on “personal qualities” than other groups, resulting in Blacks being rejected in higher percentages than objective factors like grades, scores, and extracurricular activities indicated they should be. No one would doubt that this was racial discrimination.
By the same token, there should be no doubt that Harvard has engaged in racial discrimination against Asian-American applicants.
Unfortunately, the plaintiffs drew a liberal judge nominated by President Obama to hear their case. Any appeal would be to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which is dominated by liberals.
However, Harvard’s discrimination is so blatant and so offensive that I hold out some hope that the plaintiffs will succeed. Perhaps the fact that Whites benefited from the discrimination will help the Asian-American plaintiffs, though, of course, the racial characteristics of the beneficiaries of discrimination shouldn’t matter.
A trial is scheduled for October of this year, assuming summary judgment is not granted either side. In my view, the case should be decided in favor of the plaintiffs without a trial, based on facts not genuinely in dispute.