Lawsuit claims Harvard ranked Asian-American applicants lower for personal traits
- Student records indicate that Harvard University, in its admissions review, consistently ranked Asian-American applicants lower than students from other races on criteria related to personal characteristics such as likability, kindness or being respected, according to a court filing last week.
- A group representing Asian-American students showed that while they scored higher on other criteria such as test scores and grades, their poor ratings on the other criteria diminished their prospects for being admitted. The suit charges Harvard violated the applicants’ civil rights by systematically discriminating against them with a soft quota to establish racial balancing and admitting less qualified white and black students, according to The New York Times.
- Harvard said the Asian-Americans’ rate of admission had grown 29 percent over the last decade, and that the suit attempts to “paint a dangerously inaccurate picture of Harvard College’s whole-person admissions process by omitting critical data and information factors”. The college suggested that the group's founder filing the suit was attempting to establish a challenge to race-based admissions policies that could be tested in the U.S. Supreme Court with bigger implications.
Harvard’s class of 2021 is 14.6 percent African-American, 22.2 percent Asian-American, 11.6 percent Hispanic and 2.5 percent Native American or Pacific Islander, according to Harvard’s website. Asian Americans made up about 5 percent of the population of public high schools in the United States in 2013.
In admissions reviews, Harvard scores students on five scales — academic, extracurricular, athletic, personal and overall. Whites get higher ratings than Asian-Americans for personal attributes, the suit claims, with 21.3 percent of white applicants getting a one or two compared to 17.6 percent of Asian-Americans.
A Harvard study cited a bias against Asian-American applicants in internal reports in 2013, the Times reported, but the university ignored the information and never publicly released it.
Last summer, there was increasing attention on indications that the U.S. Justice Department planned to investigate universities over alleged illegal discrimination in admissions. The university was the site of a recent Let’s Talk conference to discuss ways to improve mental health services for a variety of students, particularly Asian Americans, a population with a higher rate of suicidal ideation.
In a recent New Yorker magazine commentary, Jeannie Suk Gersen, a contributing writer and a professor at Harvard Law School, weighed both sides of the issue, but noted that in interviews she often has been judged on being “different” from other Asians because she had “qualities of heart and originality that Asian applicants generally lacked.” She said she supports “race conscious affirmative action” that with less severity addresses issues of favoritism of whites over Asians in the way it “should address discrimination and underrepresentation of blacks and Latinos.”