Asian-Americans Suing Harvard Say Admissions Files Show Discrimination
By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS APRIL 4, 2018
A group that is suing Harvard University is demanding that it publicly release admissions data on hundreds of thousands of applicants, saying the records show a pattern of discrimination against Asian-Americans going back decades.
The group was able to view the documents through its lawsuit, which was filed in 2014 and challenges Harvard’s admissions policies. The plaintiffs said in a letter to the court last week that the documents were so compelling that there was no need for a trial, and that they would ask the judge to rule summarily in their favor based on the documents alone.The plaintiffs also say that the public — which provides more than half a billion dollars a year in federal funding to Harvard — has a right to see the evidence that the judge will consider in her decision.
Harvard counters that the documents are tantamount to trade secrets, and that even in the unlikely event that the judge agrees to decide the case without a trial, she is likely to use only a fraction of the evidence in her decision. Only that portion, the university says, should be released. …
Students for Fair Admissions includes more than a dozen Asian-American students who applied to Harvard and were rejected. They contend in their lawsuit that Harvard systematically and unconstitutionally discriminates against Asian-American applicants by penalizing their high achievement as a group, while giving preferences to other racial and ethnic minorities. They say that Harvard’s admission process amounts to an illegal quota system. …
The leader of Students for Fair Admissions and the architect of the case against Harvard is Edward Blum, a longtime crusader against affirmative action who has recruited plaintiffs, hired sympathetic lawyers and raised millions of dollars from conservative groups to challenge voting rights laws and affirmative action policies, often successfully. …That was my impression about my submissions to the IRS and Census as well, but now Raj Chetty has access to much of my data. Why not have the judge hire one of Chetty’s assistants to process the Harvard data? (Admittedly, Chetty’s minions would probably not want to take a job that mighty Harvard U. would look askance upon. Unlike, say, taxpayers, Harvard is unlikely to forgive and forget such impudence.)
In its letter to the judge, Harvard said that it had an obligation to protect the identities of applicants, who take it on faith that their applications will remain private.
… The documents also include deposition testimony concerning the procedures Harvard used to evaluate applications; internal correspondence among admissions officers about applicants’ qualities; and statements by admissions officers about why they liked some applicants better than others.As far as I can tell, the main reason most admissions staffers at most colleges like particular applicants is because they remind them of them. As Richard Armour said, the Admissions Department is in charge of admitting the universities mistakes, and a fair fraction of those mistakes can’t get better jobs after they graduate than working for the Admissions Department. The pay is lousy and they are basically traveling salesmen nine months of the year. But they get compensated with the power to bestow favors upon young people who remind them of themselves at that age. (The 2013 Tina Fey comedy Admission is a pretty accurate, if excessively mild, portrayal.)
On the other hand, somewhere up the pyramid, there’s usually somebody who actually understands things. I used to go to various events for high school parents with various colleges’ admissions staffers. They were pretty lame, except for one time I got assigned to a group led by the guy who actually ran admissions at a highly successful college. Listening to him was radically different than listening to the kind of people who work for him.
At the top colleges, there really is an Inner Party who understand interesting facts that the Inner Party knows they need to know, like which kind of applicants are more likely to write six-figure checks to the development fund 40 years from now.
My guess might be that when Larry Summers was president of Harvard, he and the head of his Admissions Department had a discussion about what to do about the immense number of applications Harvard receives from Asian kids with very high test scores and GPAs.
Back around 1922, Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell explained by analogy why he was imposing a maximum quota on the soaring number of Jewish admittees to Harvard:
“The summer hotel that is ruined by admitting Jews meets its fate, not because the Jews it admits are of bad character, but because they drive away the Gentiles, and then after the Gentiles have left, they leave also.”Similarly, Larry Summers seems like the kind of Inner Party member who is smart enough to understand that if Harvard were to let in all of the Asians who qualified to get in, it would become like Yogi Berra’s ex-favorite restaurant: it would get so popular that nobody goes there anymore. Turning Harvard into UC Irvine with lousy weather won’t make even Asian applicants all that happy in the long run.
But did that kind of insight ever get put down in an email?
The plaintiffs’ confidence sounds like they may have found a smoking gun email.
On the other hand, over the last 382 years, few have gotten rich betting against Harvard. The general lesson of history is that in the end Harvard usually gets, whether from judges, politicians, the press or the public, what Harvard wants.