Harvard Asian Discrimination Trial: What We Learned in Week Two

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

In week two of the Harvard Asian discrimination trial, several witnesses shed light on the institution’s controversial admissions practices.

On Monday, Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana defended Harvard’s wealthy student body. “Don’t you actually think that Harvard’s class should have a socioeconomic makeup that looks a lot more like America, provided the students were academically qualified to be at Harvard?” the plaintiff’s attorney asked Khurana. “Your personal opinion, sir?”

 “We’re not trying to mirror the socioeconomic or income distribution of the United States,” Khurana replied. “What we’re trying to do is identify talent and make it possible for them to come to a place like Harvard.” Khurana’s response proved to be quite controversial amongst liberal-minded individuals, who argued that Harvard should strive to admit applicants from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
On Tuesday, Harvard officials rejected “race-neutral” admissions processes. “We did not find any race-neutral alternative or combination of race-neutral alternatives that provided the same … diversity-related educational benefits,” Michael Smith, the former dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences said during his testimony. “We felt that no race-neutral alternative could substitute for our consideration of race as one consideration among many in our admissions.”
On Wednesday, the plaintiff, an activist group called the Students for Fair Admissions, pointed to an internal Harvard report from 2013 that showed that Asian-Americans had the lowest acceptance rate of any ethnic group.

On Thursday, Duke economist Peter S. Arcidiacano took the witness stand. Arcidiacano submitted a report to the court over the summer that included a thorough analysis of Harvard’s admissions data. The report concluded that there was “compelling” evidence of discrimination against Asian-American applicants. Arcidiacano contends that Harvard used low “personal rating” scores to balance out Asian-American applicants’ high test and academic scores.

On Friday, Harvard attorney Bill Lee attempted to debunk Arcidiacano’s report. Lee argued that Arcidiacano’s report omitted several variables that factor into the admissions decision, namely parental occupation, intended career, and staff rating indicator.

Eight current Harvard students are set to testify this week about their experiences with the school’s affirmative action practices.


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