Judge rules in favor of Harvard in affirmative action case

The judge said in her decision that Harvard's admissions process is "not perfect" but passes constitutional muster and there is "no evidence of any racial animus whatsoever."
Image: Harvard University Campus
Harvard University students walk through campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Feb. 21, 2006.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

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By Janelle Griffith

A federal judge has ruled in favor of Harvard University in a high-profile court case centered on the college's consideration of race in its admissions decisions.

U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs said in her decision that Harvard's admissions process is "not perfect" but passes constitutional muster. She said there is no evidence of "racial animus" and no evidence "that any particular admissions decision was negatively affected by Asian American identity."

The group behind the lawsuit, Students for Fair Admissions, claimed in the 2014 lawsuit that Harvard intentionally discriminates against Asian American applicants. The group is led by Edward Blum, a conservative activist who has fought against affirmative action and other laws involving race and ethnicity, such as the Voting Rights Act. Blum said the group will appeal the decision.

“Students for Fair Admissions is disappointed that the court has upheld Harvard’s discriminatory admissions policies," Blum said in a statement Tuesday. "We believe that the documents, emails, data analysis and depositions SFFA presented at trial compellingly revealed Harvard’s systematic discrimination against Asian American applicants.”

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Harvard did not immediately return a request for comment.

The case, which experts have said could make it all the way to the Supreme Court, has added fuel to a national debate about whether and how race should influence admissions.

The group argued that Harvard's admissions office holds Asian Americans to a higher standard and uses a subjective "personal rating" that the college assigns to applicants. The lawsuit claimed the college gave preference to black and Hispanic students with poorer grades.

In April, Harvard said 25.4 percent of its admitted class of 1,950 students were Asian American, up from 22.7 percent the year before. The new figure was the highest proportion of Asian American students that the university has admitted in the last decade.

Harvard has said race is one of many factors used to consider applicants and it can only help, not hurt, an applicant’s chances.

A study published earlier this month in the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that 43 percent of white students admitted to Harvard were recruited athletes, legacy students, children of faculty and staff, or on the dean’s interest list — applicants whose parents or relatives have donated to Harvard.

The study also found that roughly 75 percent of the white students admitted from those four categories, labeled 'ALDCs' in the study, “would have been rejected if they had been treated as white non-ALDCs.”

“Removing preferences for athletes and legacies would significantly alter the racial distribution of admitted students, with the share of white admits falling and all other groups rising or remaining unchanged,” the study said.