Judge rules Harvard does not discriminate against Asian applicants

Judge rules Harvard does not discriminate against Asian applicants

A federal judge has ruled that Harvard does not discriminate against Asian Americans in its admissions process. The plaintiffs in the case presented evidence that Harvard’s “personal” scoring of individual applicants tended to be decidedly lower for otherwise high-achieving Asian students than for other racial groups. From a NY Times opinion piece I wrote about last June:

Harvard evaluated applicants on the extent to which they possessed the following traits: likability, helpfulness, courage, kindness, positive personality, people like to be around them, the person is widely respected. Asian-Americans, who had the highest scores in both the academic and extracurricular ratings, lagged far behind all other racial groups in the degree to which they received high ratings on the personality score…

Mr. Arcidiacono found that an otherwise identical applicant bearing an Asian-American male identity with a 25 percent chance of admission would have a 32 percent chance of admission if he were white, a 77 percent chance of admission if he were Hispanic, and a 95 percent chance of admission if he were black.

Mr. Arcidiacono is the statistical expert who presented information on behalf of Students for Fair Admissions, the group who sued Harvard. In her decision, Judge Allison Burroughs points out that Harvard never offered any opposition to his claim that Asians receive lower personal ratings:

Professor Arcidiacono’s preferred model suggests that Asian American identity reduced a Baseline Dataset applicant’s probability of receiving a personal rating of 2 or higher. The model implies that when holding constant nearly all of the available observable variables, Asian American identity is associated with a lower probability of being assigned a strong personal rating by an admission officer. More precisely, his model suggests that an average Baseline Dataset Asian American applicant has a 17.8 % probability of receiving a 2 or higher on the personal rating, which is lower than the 21.6% chance that the model suggests the applicant would have in the absence of any racial preference. Harvard did not offer a competing regression model to show that no statistically significant relationship between Asian American identity and the personal rating exists, and the Court therefore concludes that the data demonstrates a statistically significant and negative relationship between Asian American identity and the personal rating assigned by Harvard admissions officers, holding constant any reasonable set of observable characteristics.

However, after admitting the negative relationship exists, the judge offers reasons why this might not be the result of racial discrimination, starting with the fact that witnesses from Harvard denied it:

Harvard s witnesses credibly testified that they did not use race in assigning personal ratings (or any of the profile ratings) and did not observe any improper discrimination in the admissions process. The uniformity of these observations is persuasive given the collective manner in which admissions decisions are made, with all members of the Admissions Committee participating in all decisions and having real-time visibility into the process for each applicant. Any causal relationship between Asian American identity and the personal rating must, therefore, have been sufficiently subtle to go unnoticed by numerous considerate, diligent, and intelligent admissions officers who were immersed in the admissions process.

I’m not an attorney but “they all claimed they were innocent” doesn’t strike me as terribly compelling evidence. In any case, the judge concludes that while affirmative action was intended to be a temporary measure, race consciousness must continue until it is no longer needed:

It was always intended that affirmative action programs be limited in duration. In 2003, the Supreme Court articulated its expectation that in twenty -five years, it would not be necessary to use racial preferences to achieve a diverse student body. Grutter, 539 U. S. at 343. As time marches on and the effects of entrenched racism and unequal opportunity remain obvious, this goal might be optimistic and may need to change, but it remains imperative that Harvard and other schools that make use of racial preferences to achieve a diverse learning environment ensure, through data and experience, that “race plays no greater role than is necessary to meet its compelling interest in diversity and to keep in mind that“ racial classifications may sometimes fail to capture diversity in all of its dimensions.”…

For purposes of this case, at least for now, ensuring diversity at Harvard relies, in part, on race conscious admissions. Harvard’s admission program passes constitutional muster in that it satisfies the dictates of strict scrutiny. The students who are admitted to Harvard and choose to attend will live and learn surrounded by all sorts of people, with all sorts of experiences, beliefs and talents. They will have the opportunity to know and understand one another beyond race, as whole individuals with unique histories and experiences. It is this, at Harvard and elsewhere that will move us, one day, to the point where we see that race is a fact, but not the defining fact and not the fact that tells us what is important, but we are not yet. Until we are, race conscious admissions programs that survive strict scrutiny will have an important place in society and help ensure that colleges and universities can offer a diverse atmosphere that fosters learning, improves scholarship, and encourages mutual respect and understanding.

As someone who frequently writes about the far left’s ideas and statements about race, this judge’s take seems rather quaint. Far from moving toward a society that is less race-conscious, the left appears to be moving full speed toward one that is fixated on the subject. Ivy League schools have not been immune. In any case, it’s not clear to me how a Harvard student body with, say, 5 percent more Asians and a few percent fewer whites and other minorities would suddenly represent a campus that was suddenly lacking in diversity. It doesn’t make much sense that more of a minority which is only about 6 percent of America as a whole would make anything less diverse.

But the expectation of many observers of this case was that it would always wind up at the Supreme Court. Students for Fair Admission has already said it will appeal:

“Students for Fair Admissions is disappointed that the court has upheld Harvard’s discriminatory admissions policies,” Blum said in a statement. “We believe that the documents, emails, data analysis and depositions SFFA presented at trial compellingly revealed Harvard’s systematic discrimination against Asian-American applicants.

“SFFA will appeal this decision to the First Court of Appeals and, if necessary, to the U.S Supreme Court,” Blum added.

Progressives better start leaning on Chief Justice Roberts now.

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Jazz Shaw 5:01 PM on March 20, 2023