Asian Americans Suing Harvard Say Admissions Office Documents Reveal Discrimination

AP Photo
The Associated Press

An Asian-American group suing Harvard University says that admissions data from the Ivy League institution reveals a pattern of discrimination.

According to a Wednesday report from the New York Times, an Asian-American group suing Harvard University believes that admissions data proves that the school discriminates against Asian-Americans.

William S. Consovoy, the lawyer for Students for Fair Admissions, the group behind the lawsuit, says that the public has a right to know about Harvard’s admissions practice because the university receives a substantial amount of federal funding.

“This is an important and closely watched civil rights case,” Consovoy said in a letter to the court. “The public has a right to know exactly what is going on at Harvard. Even if this were a commercial issue — as Harvard would like to portray it — the public would have a right to know if the product is defective or if a fraud is being perpetrated.”

Despite the accusations and the pending lawsuit, Harvard spokeswoman Rachel Dane aggressively defended Harvard against accusations of discrimination. “Harvard College does not discriminate against applicants from any group in its admissions processes. We will continue to vigorously defend the right of Harvard, and other universities, to seek the educational benefits that come from a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions,” Dane said.

In a separate statement, the university insisted that releasing admissions data would constitute an invasion of student privacy.

“Harvard understands that there is a public interest in this case and that the public has certain — though not unfettered — interests in access to judicial materials,” the university said in the statement. “Those interests, however, must be balanced against the need to protect individual privacy and confidential and proprietary information about the admissions process.”

A December 2004 study from Princeton University confirmed that African-American and Hispanic university candidates in the early 1980s were almost 10 percentage points more likely than white applicants to be admitted. Additionally, minority candidates were provided a 230 point boost to their SAT score. Since the 1980s, the statistical difference between candidates across demographic lines has lessened but still remains significant.

The athlete advantage is weaker than the preference for African Americans, but stronger than the preference for Hispanic or legacy applicants. The legacy preference, while substantial, is less than that shown to Hispanics. Using the estimated logistic regression coefficients, it is possible to convert the magnitude of these preferences to a common SAT metric. The bonus for African-American applicants is roughly equivalent to an extra 230 SAT points (on a 1600-point scale), to 185 points for Hispanics, 200 points for athletes, and 160 points for children of alumni. The Asian disadvantage is comparable to a loss of 50 SAT points.