harvard university may be discriminating

Harvard University May Be Discriminating Against Asian-Americans

Students For Fair Admissions led by Edward Blum sued Harvard University for unfairly discriminating against Asian-Americans.

Harvard University May Be Discriminating Against Asian-Americans

Harvard University’s admission standards have been under the microscope for the last few years, and the intensity of the scrutiny is only increasing following a lawsuit against them filed by the Students For Fair Admissions group (1).

Students For Fair Admissions (SFA) are a non-profit organization consisting of around 20,000 students, teachers, parents, and other individuals who believe racial classifications shouldn’t be considered in university and college applications (2).

The group claims their mission is to restore the civil rights principle: that a student’s race or ethnicity shouldn’t be a factor which either hurts or helps a student get into a competitive university (2).

Students For Fair Admissions Acquires Harvard Admissions Documents In Lawsuit

According to new reports based on an analysis of 160,000 students by the SFA, Harvard had a special way of discriminating against Asian-Americans (1).

Allegedly, they do it through a “personality test.” For instance, giving them a low rating in traits like, “courage, kindness,” as well as whether others “widely respect” them or not (1).

The group reported that Asian-Americans score higher than any other racial group in traditional gradings like test scores and extracurricular activities.

Students For Fair Admissions, led by Edward Bunk, is against all forms of race-based admissions criteria. The analysis demonstrated that, through the personality portion of the admission test, Harvard didn’t allow Asian-Americans into the school (1).

According to the court documents filed in a Boston, Massachusetts court, Harvard conducted an internal investigation back in 2013 and found there was bias against Asian-American students (1).

However, the University never made the findings public and didn’t act on them either (1).

Harvard University is one of the most selective universities in the United States, as they only admit around 4.6% of their applicants every year (1).

Because of their scrutinizing admissions practice, interest groups supporting –  and decrying – affirmative action, have been interested in how the school goes about admitting their applicants (1).

The university has been fighting hard to keep their process secret. The SFA revealed the documents in the second week of June 2018 not long after their lawsuit began.

The lawsuit against Harvard claims they have been discriminating against Asian-Americans for years, clearly in violation of civil rights law.

However, the Supreme Court ruled a few years ago that Universities were allowed to implement affirmative action policies for the sake of increasing minority enrolment (1).

Punishing Asian-Americans For The Sake Of Blacks, Hispanics, Whites, and Others

The plaintiffs in the case claim Harvard attempts to balance races proportionally to the American population.

They do this to keep the numbers of Asian-Americans in the school artificially low while giving better chances to black, Hispanic, and white applicants (1).

The findings at Harvard University come at a time when race, ethnicity, admission scores, and testing, are contentious issues as schools around the country have been admitting racial groups at similar rates, despite the fact that Asian application rates and their qualifications rose (1).

Elite public schools and colleges are under the microscope, not just Harvard University.

Because of the steady rate of admission of racial groups, opponents against affirmative action have wondered if there are “soft’ quotas (1).

In their statement, the SFA stated that the suspicions of Asian-American applicants and alumni have been correct the entire time.

They claim the university is guilty of the same sort of discrimination and stereotypical policies against the Jews in the 1920’s and the 1930’s –  a well documented historical hiccup in Harvard’s track-record (1).

Because they value diversity so much, Harvard spokespersons explained, their analysis showed no discrimination in the acceptance process.

The university accused Edward Blum of merely replaying an old affirmative case which he lost.

Harvard is referring to the “Fisher Versus The University of Texas at Austin” case, where a white woman complained of racial discrimination (1).

Back in 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that race could be used as a factor in admittance (1).

Harvard’s Response And Other Universities

According to a spokesperson from Harvard, they do not discriminate against Asians, a group whose level of admittance has risen by 29% in the last decade (1).

They also claimed Mr. Blum and his organization paint a misleading portrait of their admissions process and they omit critical data and other key factors, including if the student was an athlete, the child of a staff member, or part of a “legacy (1).”

The plaintiffs said they left out these data to look at the sole effect of race on the chance of admission. Both sides of the lawsuit asked for the judge to decide on it immediately from the court documents (1).

However, that’s unlikely to happen, so the trial will likely be in October.

If the case goes to the Supreme Court, it will change decades of precedent revolving around affirmative action policies across the nation (1). As it was noted earlier in the article, Harvard isn’t the only one under considerable pressure.

Princeton and Cornell University have similar numbers of Asian-American students applying to university, and they have a comparable number of student ratios who get in (1).

The SFA states that often the departments of universities compare their admissions numbers to make things similar.

Students for Fair Admissions came to their conclusion based on data extracted from the records of around 160,000 applications over the span of 15 years, from 2000 until 2015, six four-year-periods(1).

As it was noted above, the group compares the current scenario to the one in the 1920’s and 1930’s where the university did their best to keep Jewish people out (1).

Students were admitted based on scholastic and academic performances, but after that, Harvard began using subjective criteria including things like character, personality, and promise (1).

Personality Testing, Behavior, And Extroversion

Other students have complained that Harvard is more about accepting out-going, highly social individuals, rather than those who are academically and scholastically inclined.

This character-based system is used to keep Asian-Americans admission rate around 20% every year, except for minor increases every once in awhile due to litigation (1).

According to the plaintiffs, white applicants would be pushed out most if Asian-American admissions rose.

Asian-Americans were more likely to receive the rating of “standard strong,” meaning that they lacked other qualities warranting admission (1).

In their admission process, Harvard grades students based on five different personality categories including “academic,” “athletic,” “personal,” “overall,” and “extracurricular. (1)”

The school ranks them from 1 to 6, with 1 being the best. According to the report, whites get better personal ratings with 21.3% of them getting a 1 – 2 rating compared to 17.6% of Asian-Americans, who get the same score (1).

Interviewers who are alumni give Asian-Americans personal ratings that are the same as white people, while the admissions office gives them scores that are worse than any other group (1).

According to Harvard, admissions officers do not meet the applicants personally, but they judge them through personal essays and letters of recommendation.

Harvard pointed out that their admissions committee consists of forty people, many of whom are Asian, so it’unlikely they would consider Asian-American applicants as less “personable. (1)”

Harvard Privileges Social Characteristics Rather Than Only Academics

University officials conceded in their 2013 internal review that if they admitted Asian-Americans only on academic achievement, then the rate of Asian-American admittance would rise to 43% (1).

When looking at the stats, after including Harvard’s favoritism for athletes and legacy students, the proportion of white students went up while Asian-Americans decreased to around 31% (1).

And again when taking into account extracurricular and personal ratings, the portion of whites increased again while Asian-Americans dropped to 26% (1).

According to the Times, when they brought in another category called, “demographic,” it pushed down the numbers of whites and Asian-Americans while pushing up the numbers of Hispanics and African-Americans (1).

The plaintiffs claim this means that the penalty is for being an Asian-American, despite the fact that both the number of whites and Asians are pushed down.

In 2013, the report said more study was needed to provide further insight, but then, according to Students for Fair Admissions, Harvard killed the study and buried the results (1).

In the final stages of the admissions process, Harvard officials “fine-tune” what’s called a “lop-list,” which supposedly includes race (1).

However, the officials for the university blacked out this list, and Mr. Blum, the founder of the organization suing Harvard, said it was “disreputable,” to claim the information was taken out of context when they black out portions of the “lop-list(1)”


(1) New York Times

(2) Students For Fair Admissions