HARVARD UNIVERSITY'S admission policies went under the microscope Monday in a trial in Boston that could determine the fate of affirmative action.
The plaintiffs -- Students for Fair Admissions -- claims that the university turned away highly qualified Asian American applicants in order to admit less qualified applicants.
Sally Chen ’19, co-director of the Task Force on Asian and Pacific American Studies and one of four undergraduates slated to testify, told the Harvard Crimson that it’s important to raise awareness about what’s at stake in the case.
“It’s important that we help people understand that the lawsuit isn’t about bias against Asian American students,” she said. “It’s about eliminating an important way colleges and universities across the country can help open the door to all students of color, including Asian Americans.”
Chen added that she thinks Harvard’s race-conscious policies helped her gain entry to the College because they allowed admissions officers to consider the role of race on her life experiences and achievements.
In the Harvard case, unless the plaintiff's lawyers change their strategy, none of the Asian American plaintiffs are expected to testify in the trial. They have submitted their testimony as affidavit and will remain anonymous.
Harvard denies the allegations saying race is just one of the factors used in evaluating applicants. Of the 40,000 applications this year, only about 2,000 were admitted, 23% of whom are of Asian descent.
“Harvard has engaged in, and continues to engage in, intentional discrimination against Asian Americans,” said Adam Mortara, lawyer for Students for Fair Admissions.
"Diversity and its benefits are not on trial here. Students for Fair Admissions supports diversity on campus," he said.
Mortara focused on an in-house study that showed the university knew of the alleged bias in 2013 but didn't do anything to correct their admission procedures and policies.
Asian Americans, the document showed, often were required to have higher standardized test scores on average than peers from other racial groups to qualify for a letter encouraging promising students to think about Harvard.
Plaintiffs believe that Harvard used a "personal rating" score that's used to subjectively measure character traits such as "courage" and "likeability" which Asian Americans received low scores, contend plaintiffs' lawyers.
Harvard’s lead attorney, William F. Lee, denied that the university discriminates against Asian Americans. Harvard, he said, is "open to students of all backgrounds and means.”
Lee described Harvard's intricate review process in which race is one of many factors. “Harvard never considers an applicant’s race to be a negative,” Lee said. If race does play a role with a given student, he said, it is “always considered in a positive light.”
U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs is presiding over the trial and expects to issue a verdict in three weeks. There will be no jury.
No matter what decision Burroughs issues, it won't be the end of the complaint. Both sides expect to appeal and expect it to wind up in the newly constituted and more conservative U.S. Supreme Court.
Before the start of the trial, there were dueling rallies in the Boston area.
Harvard senior Caroline Zheng, who was born in China and moved to the U.S. when she was 4, first heard about the case in the spring and got involved because she was “tired of Asian Americans being used as a wedge to drive apart and disadvantage minorities,” she told the Harvard Crimson.