Harvard, Asian-American group spar in case over alleged bias in admissions

Harvard University in Cambridge Mass

Harvard University in Cambridge Mass

An internal Harvard University review from five years ago suggested Asian American applicants would be let into the undergraduate college in much greater numbers if academic performance were the only criterion for admission, according to court documents made public Friday.

In a statement provided to Teen Vogue today, Harvard says its Asian American acceptance rates have increased by 29 percent over the last decade and that "Mr. Blum and his organization's incomplete and misleading data analysis paint a dangerously inaccurate picture of Harvard College's whole-person admissions process by omitting critical data and information factors".

The Johnston Gate at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Harvard consistently rated Asian-American applicants lower than any other race on personal traits like "positive personality", likability, courage and kindness, according to an analysis of more than 160,000 student records filed as part of a lawsuit against the university.

Attorneys for Harvard called the internal review "incomplete, preliminary and based on limited inputs".

It marks a step forward in a lawsuit that has lasted almost four years and raises implications for many other colleges that, like Harvard, say they consider race as one of many factors to gather a diverse mix of students. But the personality ratings drastically reduced their chances of getting admitted. 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.

After Donald Trump became the United States president past year, the justice department began investigating whether Harvard's policies are discriminatory because they limit the acceptance of Asian Americans.

The suit, brought by Students for Fair Admissions, says Harvard imposes what is in effect a soft quota of "racial balancing".

After accounting for Harvard's preference for recruited athletes and legacy applicants, the proportion of whites went up, while the share of Asian-Americans fell to 31 percent. The inquiry, uncovered by Blum's group, was conducted amid earlier allegations of discrimination against Harvard.

To blame, he wrote, are subjective rating categories for which Asian-American applicants consistently received lower scores than their white peers. When extracurricular activities and personal ratings were considered, the percentage of Asian-Americans dropped to 26 percent.

University officials have painted the lawsuit as an attack on their ability to consider race in admissions, which they say is necessary to ensure diversity on campus. The court has denied Harvard's motions to dismiss, and the case is moving forward, which caused the university to defend its admissions practices in an email to its alumni. The university lashed out at the founder of Students for Fair Admissions, Edward Blum, accusing him of using Harvard to replay a previous challenge to affirmative action in college admissions, Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin.

In 2016, the nation's highest court rejected a high-profile challenge to a University of Texas program created to boost the enrollment of minority students, which was brought by a white woman. The lawsuit was filed by Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit focused on challenging race as a consideration in college admissions.

Harvard argued that its records initially should be filed confidentially to protect students and the admissions process.

The judge ultimately sided with Harvard, but Blum said Friday that he believes the rest of the records will be released "in the next few weeks".

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