Affirmative Action was intended to create diversity on college campuses, favouring previously marginalised groups, but it appears that Harvard University’s admissions are a long way from delivering even the first steps of progress. The prestigious Ivy League college in Cambridge Massachusetts has come under fire from the Justice Department of the United States for their discriminatory admission policies towards Asian American students.
In a 2015 complaint, Harvard University was accused of intentional, race based, prejudice in the application process and the Justice Department announced that the institution would undergo a legal investigation.
The plaintiff in this case, was the Students For Fair Admissions group, with nearly 20,000 members, who are trying to sue the University for racial stereotyping and mistreatment of Asians.
The institution openly welcomes ‘legacy students’ and prestigious athletic scholarships, and the university is questioning why they have to digress regarding whom they let in and whom they do not.
Statistics suggest that when such types of prospective students apply, there is a 50 to 80 per cent increased chance of admission, against the average collective admission rate of 9 per cent.
At the heart of the legal case is the implication that Harvard unfairly holds Asian applicants to a higher standard, consequently restricting admissions. Subjective ‘Personal Ratings’ tests, measuring attributes like “courage” and “likeability” are allegedly where Asian students faltered. The implication is that the University collectively categorised Asian students as ‘cowardly’ and ‘unsuitable’.
Whilst Harvard claimed that race could aid admission prospects, the Students For Fair Admissions’ lawyer, Adam Mortara, claimed: “Harvard has yet to come up with any race-neutral explanation for the Asian penalty in the personal rating.” He added “no Harvard admission officer was willing to come here and testify as to why this is happening”.
Former Harvard President, Drew Faust, in the weeks following the trial, said “there is no place for discrimination of any kind at Harvard”. Mortara claimed that, coinciding with legal proceedings, the university’s intake of Asian students increased, explaining, “Harvard knew that someone was going to be looking into what’s going on, they dialled down the Asian penalty…This is powerful, circumstantial evidence of discrimination.”
The alleged hypocrisy of Harvard’s conduct proceedings undermines the question of whether race can be completely erased from the university application process and instead will only be assessed on qualifications and merit.
The determination and the actions of the Student For Fair Admission’s group is also being watched as an indicator of wider race relations under the Trump administration.
Image: Citizen 59 via Flickr