In 2015, the nonprofit group Students for Fair Admission filed a lawsuit against Harvard University that alleged Harvard directly discriminates against Asian-American applicants during the university’s top-secret admissions process. On Friday, documents previously reserved for attorneys’ eyes only were made public, providing substantial evidence of Harvard’s discriminatory practices.
In addition to pages of statistical evidence that show how Harvard’s admissions process is heavily biased against Asian-Americans, the documents show Harvard was aware of this discrimination for some time and deliberately chose to do nothing about it.
Harvard initiated an investigation into the accusations, but before these studies were even completed, members of its admissions staff, including Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons, contributed to a three-paragraph article that denied the school discriminated against Asian-Americans.
But evidence to the contrary soon emerged. In the first of two studies done by Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research, statistical models were created to predict what demographic admissions would look like under a varying set of circumstances.
In all models where race and ethnicity were not considered as factors for admissions, projected acceptance rates for Asian-Americans were substantially higher. In fact, in the model where only academic performance was considered, Asian-American applicants were projected to make up 43 percent of the school’s admissions, dominating all other demographic categories. When the current admissions model was applied, Asian-Americans made up only 19 percent of the school’s admissions.
When this information was presented to Fitzsimmons, he decided to neither share nor discuss the findings with anyone. When the second report from the Office of Institutional Research made abundantly clear that “being Asian American was negatively associated with the chance of being admitted to Harvard,” Fitzsimmons again neither shared nor discussed the findings.
The fact that race plays such a substantial factor in Harvard and other Ivy League schools’ admissions processes is alarming but far from surprising. Since 1989, there has been suspicion that Harvard and other Ivy League schools were actively limiting the number of Asian-Americans accepted into their institutions. Throughout the years, Asian-Americans have been instructed to avoid conforming to racial stereotypes in their extracurricular activities (regardless of their interests), and have even felt it necessary to refuse to disclose their race on applications.
For years, Asian-Americans have been cowed into hiding their race to improve their chances at attending an Ivy League school. Any serious advocate of civil rights should be outraged at such a blatant injustice. Aside from the fact that discrimination on the basis of race is patently illegal, it should be noted that schools such as Harvard often function as “pipelines” to positions of influence and political power.
As such, direct attempts to limit the number of Asian-Americans accepted into Harvard also are indirect attempts to limit their influence in the public sphere. Rather than being inclusive and fostering diversity, Harvard has decided to intentionally hide policies that play into a long history of political oppression of minorities.
Regardless of whether they are indicted in a court of law, the court of public opinion should hold our nation’s premier educational institutions to a higher standard, one that reflects the ideals of liberty and equality upon which America was founded.