Presiding judge weighs bias case against Harvard
BOSTON — A trial alleging racial bias in Harvard University’s admissions system has presented two starkly different images of the Ivy League school.
One side depicts a Harvard that plays racial favorites, lowering the admission bar for certain races and raising it for others, to the detriment of Asian Americans. The other side paints a Harvard that gives a slight edge to some minorities in the pursuit of diversity, but only those who would likely be admitted anyway.
Now it’s up to a judge to decide which is closer to the truth. Both sides clashed Friday during closing arguments of a trial that has been four years in the making and sits at the center of a reignited debate over affirmative action. Its outcome carries weighty implications for other colleges that also consider race when selecting students.
The group behind the suit, Students for Fair Admissions, says Harvard’s gatekeepers hold Asian American applicants to a higher standard and discriminate against them using a subjective “personal rating” that measures traits such as courage and likability.
Using six years of school admissions data, the group found that Harvard officials consistently gave Asian Americans the lowest scores in the personal rating, while scoring black and Latino students the highest. Asians fared well in other categories including academics, yet they were admitted at the lowest rate.
Harvard insists that the group’s statistical analysis, done by a Duke University economist, is flawed, and presented a dueling analysis from a UC Berkeley economist who found no evidence of bias. The school’s lawyers emphasized that race is only one of many factors considered.
A civil lawsuit against Harvard University accuses it of playing racial favorites, lowering the admission bar for certain races and raising it for others, to the detriment of Asian Americans.