A case at a district court in Boston (Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, 14-cv-14176, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts) threatens to reveal the secrets to the obscure and tightly held secrets of the Harvard’s admission process.
The lawsuit was brought by the Students for Fair Admissions group, a conservative ,anti-affirmative-action group. The plaintiffs argue that Harvard has been discriminating against Asians in its admission policies. Harvard denies the claim that it discriminates against minorities in its admission process.
The Student for Fair Admissions group (the plaintiffs) argue that Harvard has operated an illegal quota system by admitting almost identical percentages of Whites, asians, african-americans and native americans every year, despite yearly differences in application rates and qualifications among each of these ethnic groups. The plaintiffs argue that if Harvard’s admission policy were fair then Asians would represent a much larger percentage of Harvard’s incoming class every year (about 40%).
“It falls afoul of our most basic civil rights principles, and those principles are that your race and your ethnicity should not be something to be used to harm you in life nor help you in life,” said Edward Blum, the president of Students for Fair Admissions, speaking to the New York times.
The plaintiffs have also lodged complaints against the University of North Carolina at Chapell Hill and the University of Texas at Austin, this time arguing that admission policies in these universities have been unfairly discriminating against whites.
Edward Blum, the leader of the Students for Fair Admissions group, and director of the Project on Fair Representation, is a life-long opponent of affirmative action having filed dozens of lawsuits challenging affirmative action practices and voting laws in the United States including Fisher V University of Texas a case which reached the supreme court which argued that Abigail Fisher, a white woman had her admission to university denied based on her race.
Getting Into Harvard a Status Symbol
Being admitted to top American universities is still very much a symbol of success. Fair access to elite American universities is one of the main pillar of the concept of American meritocracy. Students who get into these elite universities are afforded credentials and prestige which boost their chances of getting the best-paid jobs and working for the most prestigious companies in the world. Getting into an elite university also means having at your disposal a powerful and active alumni network that you can tap into. Universities such as Harvard have been attended by past US presidents, scions of some of the wealthiest families, foreign dignitaries, and some of the most influential business people and tech luminaries.
Applications to Ivy league schools, a term used for what are considered the most elitist and selective of American Universities, are therefore very high. Tens of thousands of students apply to ivy league schools every year, and less than 10 % of those are accepted. At Harvard , about 40,000 students apply each year and less than 5% of applicants get in. This year 4.59 % percent of applicants were admitted to Harvard for its class of 2022
How You Get In
Students who apply to Harvard are rated on the basis of five categories: Academics, athletics, extracurriculars, personal, and a category called ‘overall’- on top of recommendations from teachers and their performances during alumni interviews.
The final decisions of who get accepted are made over three weeks in March by a committee of admission officers who meet up to discuss the merits of students that are on the fence.
Harvard Admission Secrets Revealed by The Court Case
Thanks to the case brought by the Students for Fair Admissions group, we are learning of new details about the Harvard admission process which can help prospective applicants from, America and the world, gain insight on what is looked for by Harvard admission officers with a view of increasing their chances of being accepted into the prestigious university.
Dockets: applicants are divided into 20 geographic dockets based on their geographical location (with countries outside the United States presumably divided into the 20 regions) and a committee of admission officers are assigned to each ‘docket’. The members of the committee, who have detailed knowledge of that geographical region, then screen applicants using their knowledge to get a more rounded idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the applicants.
Tip: An name for a status which gives an applicant an admission advantage. There exist five categories of ‘tips’: recruited athletes; children of Harvard alumni, so called ‘legacies’; relatives of a Harvard donor; children of staff or faculty members, and racial and ethnic minorities.
Another tip: Alumni who volunteer for Harvard, by helping the alumni association, or doing scholarship or development work , have better chances of their child being accepted.
Dean’s interest list: is a list of candidates whose application process the Harvard dean of admissions follows closely. It also refers to candidates who have ‘connections to Harvard.’ When asked about the dean’s interest list , William Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions at Harvard said during a deposition, ‘The dean’s list is something that I would use to make certain that I’m aware of what eventually might happen to that application.’
It refers to candidates who have a close relationship with a donor. When a plaintiff’s lawyer asked during a deposition whether there was a link between how much money a donor gave and the chance for a person of interest to the donor on the Dean’s interest list having a higher rating he replied, ‘It would tend to go that way.’ But candidates who get on the dean’s interest list are also candidates who might have interacted with recruiting officers at recruiting events and caught their attention. Recruiters might subsequently place them on the dean’s interest list.
Z list: students who are on the threshold academically but that Harvard want to commit. They have generally have strong connections to Harvard but also to donors. Represents about 60 students a year.
Lop- list: the pool of potentially accepted students is often reviewed. At this point, some students who were ‘accepted’ may, on the basis of a number of factors including lineage, ethnicity, athletic ability and whether they require financial aid, may have their status changed to ‘waitlist’ or ‘deny’. Plaintiffs argue that this lop is used to shape the ethnic and demographic profile of the class and perform ‘racial balancing’.
What will happen to Harvard.
There is a lot at stake in this case. A federal judge demanded that Harvard release six years of admissions data under seal to the court in June 2018. Ultimately, this data may be released to the public.
If the case is decided in the plaintiffs favour , Harvard could lose federal funding in the form of funding for student loans and grants, or funding for research. This is because under the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which forbids racial discrimination in programs that receive federal money, the federal government can withhold federal funds to higher education institutions it deems have been guilty of racial discrimination.
‘The federal government potentially has the ability to influence university admissions policies by withholding federal funds under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids racial discrimination in programs that receive federal money .
What will happen to other schools.
Other universities may be required to release admission data as a result of this lawsuit.
Most elite universities judge applicants based on a range of categories including academic merit, leadership skills, athletics, hardships they have faced but also ethnicity. As a result a ruling in favour of the plaintiffs will likely have a ripple effect on the admission process of most universities.
Dozens of elite US universities including , Yale, Princeton, Brown, Stanford and MIT are standing by Harvard and have filed a friend-of-the-court brief – a brief presented to the court by an individual or organisation which is not party to the case but wants to provide expertise, information or facts which they believe is important to the case- in defence of Harvard and its admissions process.
The schools argue that it is important that universities consider ethnicity and race in the admission process in order to create diverse student bodies and as a result ensure a more enriching experience for students. They argue that, “a diversity of perspectives, experiences, goals, backgrounds, races, ethnicities and interests” in the admissions process. “Doing so significantly deepens the students’ educational experience” and “encourages students to question their own assumptions, to test received truths and to appreciate the complexity of the modern world,” according to the filing as reported by Bloomberg.
This Harvard lawsuit is the latest in a number of cases which have been brought challenging affirmative action in the United States. One case which went all the way to the supreme court was that of Fisher v. University of Texas where the supreme court ultimately rejected the challenge to race sensitive admissions on the part of white woman claiming she had been discriminated against.
In the ruling, Justice Kennedy, the author of the majority decision in that case, said, “Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission.”