Harvard, Asian-Americans group spar over data in bias case

Harvard Yard

"Today's court filing exposes the startling magnitude of Harvard's discrimination against Asian-American applicants", Edward Blum, president of Students for Fair Admissions, said in a statement to ABC News.

After months of discovery, the two sides squared off Friday in court filings asking the judge to rule in their favor ahead of the trial, which is set for October.

The plaintiffs said Harvard's own internal review showed how its admissions process harmed Asian-American applicants, according to the Times, the Boston Globe and the Wall Street Journal.

In 2013, Harvard performed an internal review of its admissions process.

In Friday's brief, Harvard said the percentage of Asian Americans it admitted had actually grown by 29% over the last decade.

Low rankings gained by Asian-Americans in categories such as likeability, kindness, courage and being "widely respected" dramatically reduced their chances of getting into Harvard despite gaining better academic results than other ethnic groups. This keeps the number of Asian-Americans artificially low, while advancing less qualified white, black and Hispanic applicants, the plaintiffs contend.

Yet Harvard alumni who interview applicants and provide their own ratings generally scored Asian-Americans higher than whites, a contrast that Arcidiacono says suggests bias.

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"Mr. Blum and his organization's incomplete and misleading data analysis paint a dangerously inaccurate picture of Harvard College's whole-person admissions process by omitting critical data and information factors, such as personal essays and teacher recommendations that directly counter his arguments", said Anna Cowenhoven, a spokeswoman for Harvard. The university instead filed court documents with new research showing that Harvard does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants.

Arcidiacono largely puts the blame on subjective categories that disfavor Asian-Americans.

The study found that even considering factors like legacy status and extracurricular activities, 26 percent of the admitted class would have been expected to be Asian-American. In a statement, the school called the lawsuit an attack on its ability to consider race in admissions, which it says is necessary to gather a racially diverse mix of students.

In 2016, the Supreme Court examined the topic and upheld race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas, but the justices warned that other colleges still must be able to prove affirmative action is the only way to meet diversity goals.

In 2016, the nation's highest court rejected a high-profile challenge to a University of Texas program created to boost the enrollment of minority students, which was brought by a white woman. Fisher is also an executive in Students for Fair Admissions, according to the group's tax filings.

Harvard did not directly counter the personal-rating statistic but said in a Friday filing that the challengers' data analysis failed to include applicants such as athletes and children of parents who attended Harvard or of staff at the school. Blum's group said the public should have access to the records, and the U.S. Education Department - which is also looking into Harvard's use of race in admissions - weighed in to agree.

Lawyers for the students claimed leaders of Harvard's admission team were evasive during depositions and appeared to suffer memory problems. "We believe that the rest of the evidence will be released in the next few weeks, and it will further confirm that Harvard is in deliberate violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act".

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