Federal judge Allison D. Burroughs has ruled that Harvard does not intentionally discriminate against Asian American applicants in the recent affirmative action case brought to court against the university. The plaintiff, Students for Fair Admissions, was a group of Asian American students who had been previously rejected by Harvard’s admissions process.
According to The New York Times, the Students for Fair Admissions made four claims against the institution: "that Harvard intentionally discriminated against Asian-Americans; that it used race as predominant factor in admissions decisions; that Harvard racially balanced its classes; and that it had considered applicants' race without first exhausting race-neutral alternatives to create diversity."
The lawsuit aimed to overturn the longstanding precedent established by the Supreme Court that universities may use race as a factor in their admission decisions. However, schools cannot establish racial quotas, which Harvard was accused of doing for Asian Americans, according to The New York Times.
"I feel that as a student who went through the undergraduate admissions process and as a current student who intends to apply to continue my education at a higher level, that race should not be a factor in the considerations of admissions," said Vinh Ngo, a sophomore biology major at LMU. "I believe that my race does not define me as a student, rather my academics and my experiences put together."
The Students for Fair Admissions argued that the admissions board favored African American and Hispanic applicants over Asian Americans on account of race, rather than standardized test scores, according to CNN.
Judge Burroughs claimed that Harvard had met the constitutional standard of using race in admissions to promote diversity among such institutions. However, she also stated in her decision that the process could be improved with implicit bias training of the admissions board, according to The Washington Post.
“Diversity will foster the tolerance, acceptance and understanding that will ultimately make race conscious admissions obsolete,” wrote Judge Burroughs in her decision, according to The New York Times.
In his Letter to the Community regarding the case ruling, Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow emphasized Harvard’s holistic approach to the admissions process, stating that race is one of many other factors considered to evaluate each individual as a whole person. This is similar to the approach that LMU takes in its admissions process according to Matthew Fissinger, the assistant vice provost of LMU's Undergraduate Admissions.
"When you’re looking at an application, or rather a lot of applications, you want to be able to consider everything about the person and his or her background when you’re making an admission decision," said Fissinger. "It’s all part of their story. It’s all part of who they are and what they’ll bring to the campus community."
Although Judge Burroughs ruled in favor of Harvard, leader of Students for Fair Admissions, Edward Blum, who has dealt previously with affirmative action issues, is preparing to bring the case to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, according to Richard Vedder, a writer for Forbes who knows Blum personally.
The case has caused widespread scrutiny from other high ranked institutions, including the Justice Department. It is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court, according to The New York Times.
“The power of American higher education stems from a devotion to learning from our differences. Affirming that promise will make our colleges, and our society, stronger still,” stated Bacow in his public address regarding the case.
The impact of this case is likely to result in a review of the admissions processes of universities across the country to ensure that similar potential discrimination is not a widespread issue, according to The New York Times.