Many academics have been been following the long-running litigation over Harvard’s admissions criteria. The University has steadfastly resisted efforts to review its admissions statistics and criteria by both litigants and even the Department of Education. It has had to turn over that information and the results are a bit stunning, particularly with regard to the treatment of Asian students. A federal case has revealed what challengers claim is a sizable bias against Asian students and in favor of African American students with much lower scores. This includes a systemic downgrading of Asian students on a “personal” category that many have suggested is an effort to conceal an effective race-based quota or affirmative action system.
At the outset, I will admit to long questioning non-academic based criteria for admissions, particularly in the use of race to achieve pre-ordained distribution rates if it comes at the cost of academic performance. These students work hard to achieve their test and GPA scores in high school. It is wrong, in my view, to admit students with substantially lower scores because students are the wrong race or gender.
The Harvard data would suggest precisely that type of disparity. According to challengers, “An Asian-American applicant with 25% chance of admission . . . would have a 35% chance if he were white, 75% if he were Hispanic, and 95% chance if he were African-American.” If true, that is a breach of trust for applicants who ask to be viewed on their own merits and not the color of their skin.
Even more disturbing is the suggested use of the “personal” category to hide a systemic bias. This category covers the highly ambiguous traits of likability and “attractive to be with.” I am not even sure what the latter reference entails.