A federal judge ruled this week that the admissions policy of Harvard University is constitutional.
In a closely watched lawsuit that had raised fears about the future of affirmative action, a group called Students for Fair Admissions accused the Ivy League college of deliberately — and illegally — holding down the number of Asian Americans accepted in order to preserve a certain racial balance on campus.
U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs, however, ruled that Harvard’s admissions process is “not perfect” but passes constitutional muster. She said there is “no evidence of any racial animus whatsoever” and no evidence that any admission decision was “negatively affected by Asian American identity.”
“Race conscious admissions will always penalize to some extent the groups that are not being advantaged by the process,” Burroughs wrote, “but this is justified by the compelling interest in diversity and all the benefits that flow from a diverse college population.”
While the basis of the lawsuit was that Asian-American students were being discriminated against, the backers of this suit is a right-wing group whose goal is to get rid of affirmative action altogether.
In the case at Harvard, the plaintiffs argued that Asian Americans were held to a higher standard in admissions, amounting to an “Asian penalty,” while the school gave preference to black and Hispanic students with poorer grades.
Harvard has called Students for Fair Admission a political group with no real interest in helping Asian Americans. Instead, its critics say, the organization’s real goal is to end affirmative action altogether. Blum is a legal strategist who has orchestrated lawsuits to ban it at other colleges.
The group says it has more than 20,000 members, including one Asian American who was unfairly rejected in 2014, but none have come forward publicly. During the trial, no students testified that they faced discrimination by Harvard.
A recent paper looked at who are the people who really benefit from the admissions policies of Harvard and they are the white legacy students and athletes. From the abstract of the paper:
The lawsuit Students For Fair Admissions v. Harvard University provided an unprecedented look at how an elite school makes admissions decisions. Using publicly released reports, we examine the preferences Harvard gives for recruited athletes, legacies, those on the dean’s interest list, and children of faculty and staff (ALDCs). Among white admits, over 43% are ALDC. Among admits who are African American, Asian American, and Hispanic, the share is less than 16% each. Our model of admissions shows that roughly three quarters of white ALDC admits would have been rejected if they had been treated as white non-ALDCs. Removing preferences for athletes and legacies would significantly alter the racial distribution of admitted students, with the share of white admits falling and all other groups rising or remaining unchanged. [My italics-Mano]
As Kevin Drum says:
It turns out that more than 40 percent of Harvard’s incoming white students from the classes of 2014-19 benefited from their ALDC status compared to about 15 percent for other ethnic groups. As a result, 1,612 otherwise unqualified whites were admitted, triple the number of every other group combined.
Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone complain about affirmative action for black or Hispanic students crowding out better qualified white students. Whatever sort of affirmative action Harvard may have for marginalized groups, the raw numbers come nowhere even close to the preferences they already give to white applicants.