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Harvard's admissions policies don't discriminate against Asian-Americans, judge rules

Oct. 2, 2019
An anti-affirmative action group had alleged that the school's admissions policies wrongfully held Asian American applicants to higher standards.

Harvard University's race-conscious admissions policies do not illegally discriminate against Asian American applicants, a federal judge has ruled.

The Harvard Crimson reports that the ruling brings an end to this stage of the lawsuit filed in 2014 against the university by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA). It alleged that the school's admissions policies discriminate against Asian American applicants by holding them to higher standards.

Judge Allison D. Burroughs, however, found that Harvard’s use of race in its admissions process is legal.

“Ensuring diversity at Harvard relies, in part, on race conscious admissions. Harvard’s admission program passes constitutional muster,” Burroughs wrote.

In addition to arguing that Harvard’s policies are discriminatory, SFFA contended that the the school had artificially capped the number of students from certain racial groups and had failed to seriously consider alternative race-blind strategies for admitting a diverse class.

Burroughs determined the university was not liable on all four counts of alleged wrongdoing: intentionally discriminating against Asian Americans, engaging in racial balancing, using race as a determinative factor in admissions decisions, and inadequately exploring race-neutral alternatives to achieve diversity.

SFFA President Edward J. Blum says the organization plans to appeal the ruling.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote in an email that Harvard’s consideration of race in admissions enables the school to create a diverse student body that in turn “enriches the education of every student.”

“Everyone admitted to Harvard College has something unique to offer our community, and today we reaffirm the importance of diversity—and everything it represents to the world,” he wrote.

Despite siding with Harvard, Burroughs wrote that Harvard’s policies could be improved. She suggested providing admissions officers implicit bias training, maintaining clear guidelines on the use of race in the admissions process, and monitoring any race-related statistical disparities.

In her ruling, Burroughs wrote that Harvard’s policies, though not perfect, meet “constitutional muster” for acceptable affirmative action policies as determined by the Supreme Court in landmark rulings.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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