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Harvard reports revealed concern over Asian-American admissions rate

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 6/15/2018 By Deirdre Fernandes

Harvard Yard © Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff Harvard Yard Harvard University’s own internal research raised concerns about how Asian-American applicants are treated by the college’s admissions process, according to documents filed Friday in an affirmative action lawsuit against the school.

Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research completed three reports starting in 2013 that showed Asian-Americans faced a penalty in the admissions process, according to a filing by the Students for Fair Admissions, a non-profit that is suing Harvard.

Harvard’s research office found that Asian-Americans would comprise 43 percent of an admitted class if admissions officers considered only academic qualifications and should make up 26 percent of the class when extracurricular activities and personal ratings are considered. Yet at that time, Asian-Americans made up 19 percent of the share of admitted students.

Harvard’s own reports offered no conclusions or explanations about why a gap in Asian-American admissions existed. But one of the reports noted that, “Asian high achievers have lower rates of admission,” according to the court documents.

Asian-Americans accounted for about 22 percent of the students admitted into Harvard this past spring.

Students for Fair Admissions, which is representing a group of Asian-American students, is led by Edward Blum, who most recently backed a challenge to race-based admissions at the University of Texas that involved a white student.

Blum and the organization argue in court documents that Harvard did nothing to address the inequity discovered by its own research into Asian-American admissions.

“Instead of taking even the most minor steps to address this problem, or conducting any further investigation, Harvard killed the investigation and buried the reports,” according to the organization’s court filings.

Harvard, for its part, argues that its use of race to ensure a diverse campus is legal and fair, and its old internal reports were preliminary and incomplete. The university instead filed court documents with new research showing that Harvard does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants.

The new report, which reviewed six years of admissions data, found that being Asian-American had no material effect on gaining a seat at Harvard, according to court filing.

In fact, the admissions rate for Asian-Americans has grown by 29 percent in the past decade, Harvard officials said.

In its own court filings, Harvard argues that Blum and the Students for Fair Admissions having failed to convince the US Supreme Court to overturn the use of race in college admissions in the University of Texas case, are now trying again with Asian-Americans.

“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 competing documents, filed Friday morning in US District Court in Boston, are the latest salvo in the ongoing lawsuit. The case is likely to go to trial this fall and could test the use of race in college admissions.

The documents also show that Harvard has considered race-neutral admissions policies in recent years, including socio-economic factors and geography, but found that neither were sufficient.

“Harvard could not achieve the diversity it seeks or the educational objectives that flow from that diversity without considering race unless it significantly compromised other essential institutional objectives, including academic excellence,” Harvard said in its court filings.

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