Tuesday, 19 March, 2019

Harvard University's high-stakes affirmative action case heads to federal court

A building at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations A building at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations
Patty Aguilar | 18 October, 2018, 01:11

Despite the outcome of the trial, both sides are expected to appeal the decision.

Harvard denies the claim and says it assesses each applicant on an individual basis, sometimes using race as a "plus" factor, to achieve the best mix among students for its educational goals.

A high-profile test of affirmative action policy will begin on Monday in a federal courtroom in Boston as Harvard University defends its use of race in its admissions policy.

Students for Fair Admissions is led by Edward Blum, a legal strategist who has fought against the use of race at other colleges, including a Supreme Court case in 2016 that upheld policies at the University of Texas.

More than 25 witnesses are expected to be called over the next three weeks in the case being tried before US District Court Judge Allison Burroughs.

The plaintiff contends that Harvard discriminates against Asian Americans when rating their personal qualities such as leadership and compassion and that every year engineers a precise racial balance of admission offers that gives an unfair edge to less-qualified applicants from other groups.

In an amicus brief - a court filing supporting Harvard - the ACLU argued that "a whole-person, race-conscious admissions process furthers a university's academic freedom to assemble a diverse student body". "This white conservative activist is spearheading the lawsuit against Harvard - a fact that on its own should generate skepticism towards its merits, especially in an audience of color like ours", Pham adds.

In the first day of a trial focused on Harvard's admissions process, lawyers challenging the Ivy League campus laid out multiple ways that they allege it discriminates against Asian Americans, beginning with its recruitment practices. Those ratings, which he said reflect assessments in such traits as likability, sensitivity and grit, are weighed along with ratings in other categories such as academics and extracurricular activities. Meanwhile, he argued, black and Latino students get a decisive advantage due to their race. Affirmative action turned into a "results-driven" effort to integrate American colleges and end race rioting, he said.

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The university also notes that the proportion of students of Asian origin has increased substantially since 2010, and today account for 23 percent of the 2,000 students admitted to the freshman class out of 40,000 applicants.

"The case is critically important", said Nicole Gon Ochi of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, which backs Harvard, "as it's really about diversity at colleges all across the country".

Mr. Arcidiacono found that an otherwise identical applicant bearing an Asian-American male identity with a 25 percent chance of admission would have a 32 percent chance of admission if he were white, a 77 percent chance of admission if he were Hispanic, and a 95 percent chance of admission if he were black.

It has served Harvard's interest for people to think that, unless it wins this case, affirmative action will be eliminated, and that Harvard's treatment of Asian-American applicants was necessary to attain an acceptable level of diversity among its undergraduates.

"Harvard never considers an applicant's race to be negative", Lee said. Fitzsimmons has been Harvard's dean of admissions and financial aid since 1986.

"Basically, we just want the colleges to admit students based on their merits, instead of meddling in the process and systematically discriminating against students based on their race, skin color and national origin", Yu said.

A diversity rally near the Harvard University campus. The recent arrival of Kennedy's replacement, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, strengthened the court's conservative majority and could signal a new approach if it revisits the issue.

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