A Follow Up of Harvard’s Affirmative Action Trial, One Year Later

Judge upholds Harvard's admissions process in affirmative action case.

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A Follow Up of Harvard’s Affirmative Action Trial, One Year Later

Copyright 2016 Jannis Werner

Copyright 2016 Jannis Werner

Copyright 2016 Jannis Werner

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A judge has ruled in favor of Harvard University in a case regarding whether Harvard discriminates against Asian American applicants by holding them to a higher standard.

Photo from TripAdvisor.

On Tuesday, September 24, Federal District Court Judge Allison D. Burroughs issued her decision, saying that “the Court finds no persuasive documentary evidence of any racial animus or conscious prejudice against Asian Americans.”

The case marks a win for affirmative action, which some colleges (such as Harvard) use to consider a person’s race during the application process in order to create a more diverse student body.

The Case

The plaintiff, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), argued that Harvard’s admissions process considered race too much and discriminated against Asian American applicants. The organization sued Harvard in 2014, claiming that Harvard uses an illegal method called “racial balancing” to design its student body and prevent more Asian Americans from being admitted. In other words, the plaintiffs believed that the only way to ensure that Asian Americans have an equal chance in admissions is if race is completely eliminated from the process.

Edward Blum, President of SFFA.

In defense, Harvard released a complete run-down of its admissions process, from how the applications are sorted to the final decision. In a statement from Harvard’s website, it says, “Race is one of many factors that Harvard considers in evaluating each applicant as a whole person, an approach that helps create a diverse campus community where students from all walks of life have the opportunity to share ideas and learn from each other…the consideration of race, among many other factors, remains necessary to attain an exceptional class that is diverse on many dimensions and central to the ability of Harvard College to pursue its educational mission.”

In infographic from Harvard’s website depicting what factors are considered when Harvard admissions counselors are reviewing an applicant.

Harvard also argued that SFFA had misinterpreted Harvard’s use of a “personal rating,” which is based on an applicants essays, recommendations from teachers and guidance counselors, interviews, or any other letters of information, and that Blum’s case against Harvard relied on a faulty statistical model that falsely assumed that Harvard discriminated against Asian Americans.

What Now? 

SFFA President Edward Blum said that he was disappointed by the ruling, and that SFFA “will appeal this decision to the 1st Court of Appeals, and, if necessary, to the US Supreme Court.” Interestingly, Edward Blum is a white man representing a group of anonymous Asian Americans who were rejected from Harvard. While Blum insists that he is fighting for civil rights, many have criticized him for using Asian Americans as a means to get rid of affirmative action. If taken to that Supreme Court, conservative justices like Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh could outlaw affirmative action altogether. However, in the words of Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow, “Today we reaffirm the importance of diversity—and everything it represents to the world.”