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Judge Sees Flaws on Both Sides in Harvard Admissions Case


Views from the Edge

U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs has heard the final arguments from both sides on Harvard’s admission policies and will now attempt to unite the Gordian Knot.

Burroughs, who presided over the three-week trial last year, said Wednesday (Feb. 13) she would “get to work on this.” She didn’t say how long it would take to write her ruling.

The plaintiff, Students For Fair Admissions, claims that Harvard discriminates against Asian Americans in its admissions process. The Ivy League university says a ruling against affirmative action  would reduced the number of African American and Latino students.

The judge made it clear that both sides’ arguments were inadequate. She asked why the plaintiffs didn’t present any actual students who felt they were victims of bias. She also felt that evidence provided by SFFA may have shown that Asian applicants lost points under the subjective  “personal” category.

“They  (SFFA) have the victim problem, but you guys have that personal rating,” Burroughs told Harvard’s lawyers.

Harvard’s attorney William Lee argued that “the plain failure to produce a single individual or a single (admissions) file…. is truly remarkable.” He contended that claims of bias against Asian Americans were not supported by the testimony.

Lee said that Asian American applicants generally fare well in the school’s admissions process. Students of Asian descent have dramatically increased since the 1980s and have been steadily rising in recent years, he said.

In arguing for a more diverse student body, Harvard also had to defend the practice of “legacy” admissions for children of prominent alumni and donors. If the judge rules against the present admission process, she might also affect those special admittees, who might score as well academically.

The applicants represented by SFFA claimed that less qualified applicants were being admitted at the expense of high-scoring Asian Americans.

For this year’s Freshman class, Harvard reported that Asian Americans made up 23% of the class. African Americans were at about 15% and Latino students at 12%. A category comprised mostly of white students was 50%.

Harvard receives about 40,000 applications every year but only have 1,600 openings.

The case also revealed a deep split in the Asian American community. Although a majority of Asian Americans support affirmative action, a vocal minority was able to garner the support of conservatives who see a chance to undo the program that was signed into law by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Once Burroughs rules, any appeal would be made to the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court, where conservatives, who are in the majority, would most likely rule against affirmative action.

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