Harvard University can racially discriminate in admissions against Asian-Americans to achieve a more diverse student body. That’s the startling essence of a federal judge’s ruling Tuesday that turns the 1964 Civil Rights Act on its head and seems destined for the Supreme Court.
“Ensuring diversity at Harvard relies, in part, on race conscious admissions,” wrote federal Judge Allison Burroughs. “Race conscious admissions will always penalize to some extent the groups that are not being advantaged by the process, but this is justified by the compelling interest in diversity and all the benefits that flow from a diverse college population.”
Harvard denies that it discriminates against Asian-Americans, or has any admissions quotas, implicit or otherwise. It says race is only one of many factors and, after examining the evidence, Judge Burroughs says this use of race is legal because diversity is a legitimate goal. The judge thus enshrines in law the opaque practices of many modern universities that make sure there aren’t too many high-performing Asian-Americans on campus.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of more than two dozen plaintiffs by Students for Fair Admissions, and one virtue of the suit is that it has exposed these hitherto secret admissions practices to public scrutiny. At the heart of the complaint is that the subjective “personal” ratings Asian-American applicants receive from Harvard are on average significantly lower than the ratings for Hispanic, black and white applicants. This brings down the overall scores of Asian-American applicants, and lessens their superior performance on extracurricular activities and academics.
Judge Burroughs concedes the difference but explains it away as perhaps being their own fault. It may be, she wrote, that “Asian American applicants’ disproportionate strength in academics comes at the expense of other skills and traits that Harvard values.” Who knew that Harvard had a quota on nerds—at least if they’re of Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese or Indian descent?