Harvard Cleared of Racial Bias in Admissions
Harvard does not discriminate against Asian American applicants, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday in a decision that offers relief to other colleges that consider race in admissions but also sets the stage for a potential review by an increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court.
The decision came from two judges on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston who rejected claims from an anti-affirmative action group that accused the Ivy League university of imposing a "racial penalty" on Asian Americans. The judges upheld a previous ruling clearing Harvard of discrimination when choosing students.
It delivers a blow to the suit's plaintiff, Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit that aims to eliminate the use of race in college admissions. In a statement, the group's president, Edward Blum, said he was disappointed but that "our hope is not lost."
"This lawsuit is now on track to go up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where we will ask the justices to end these unfair and unconstitutional race-based admissions policies at Harvard and all colleges and universities," Blum said.
Both sides have been preparing for a possible review by the Supreme Court, and some legal scholars say the issue is ripe to be revisited.
Race's role in admissions
Filed in 2014, the lawsuit has revived a national debate about race's role in college admissions. In multiple decisions spanning decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that colleges can consider race as a limited factor in order to promote campus diversity. But the practice faces mounting challenges in the courts, including three suits from Students for Fair Admissions.
Many elite colleges consider applicants' race and give an edge to some underrepresented students to promote diversity on campus. The Trump administration has opposed the practice and backed the lawsuit against Harvard. In October, the Justice Department filed a similar suit accusing Yale University of discriminating against Asian American and white applicants.
In Thursday's decision, however, the judges ruled that Harvard's admissions process passes legal muster and aligns with requirements that the Supreme Court laid out in previous cases.
"The issue before us is whether Harvard's limited use of race in its admissions process in order to achieve diversity in the period in question is consistent with the requirements of Supreme Court precedent. There was no error," the judges wrote.
Blum, a legal strategist, has spent years working to rid racial considerations from college admissions. Before the Harvard case, he orchestrated an unsuccessful fight challenging the use of race at the University of Texas. In that case, a white student said she was rejected by the university because she was white.
Several Asian American groups filed legal briefs supporting Harvard, while some others filed briefs backing the suit and alleging discrimination in Ivy League admissions.
The suit alleges that Harvard's admissions officers use a subjective "personal rating" to discriminate against Asian Americans who apply to the school. Using six years of admissions data, the group found that Asian American applicants were given the highest scores in an academic category but received the lowest scores on the personal rating.
The group's analysis found that Harvard accepted Asian Americans at lower rates than any other racial group, while giving preference to Black and Hispanic students with lower grades. The lawsuit also alleged that Harvard works to keep a consistent racial breakdown among new students, which the organization says amounts to illegal "racial balancing."
Statistically insignificant effect
Harvard denies any discrimination and says it considers applicants' race only in the narrow way approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. In close calls between students, some underrepresented students may get a "tip" in their favor, school officials have said, but students' race is never counted against them.
After a three-week trial that cast new light on Harvard's secretive selection process, a federal judge ruled that other factors could explain why Asian Americans are admitted at lower rates than other students. In her 2019 ruling, District Judge Allison D. Burroughs said Harvard's admissions process is "not perfect" but concluded that there was "no evidence of any racial animus whatsoever."
A three-judge panel of the appeals court heard arguments in September, but one of the judges, Juan Torruella, died in October before the case was decided. The ruling notes that Torruella heard oral arguments but did not participate in issuing the decision.
The judges agreed with a district court finding that Harvard's personal rating is not influenced by race. Although the rating may be correlated with race, the judges wrote, the link is more likely to be caused by outside factors including students' personal essays or letters of recommendation.
Ultimately, the judges wrote, Asian American identity has a statistically insignificant effect on admissions probability, and they concluded that Harvard does not place outsized emphasis on race.
"Harvard has demonstrated that it values all types of diversity, not just racial diversity," the judges wrote. "Harvard's use of race in admissions is contextual and it does not consider race exclusively."
The decision received praise from the American Council on Education, an association of university presidents, which called it a "clear win" for Harvard and other universities.
Some legal scholars, however, believe that the current makeup of the Supreme Court may be more likely to place tighter limits around the use of race in admissions or to forbid the practice entirely.
The three Supreme Court justices appointed to the court by President Donald Trump have pushed the nation's highest court more conservative than when it last ruled in favor of the consideration of race in college admissions in 2016.
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Proposal Would Remove Student Aid for Those Who Support Some Palestinian Groups
A Florida lawmaker has proposed eliminating scholarships, tuition breaks and fee waivers for students who are suspected of “promoting terrorist organizations.”
According to WOKV television, the bill appears to be in line with Florida efforts to disband pro-Palestinian groups on college campuses. (November 2023)
US Lawmakers Grill University Presidents About On-Campus Antisemitism
The presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were questioned by House lawmakers on Tuesday over whether their administrations are doing enough to combat the wave of antisemitism that has swept their campuses as the Israel-Hamas war rages.
Republican Representative Virginia Foxx said the three presidents were called to testify because “we heard in particular that the most egregious situations have occurred on these campuses.”
Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University, faced particularly difficult lines of questioning from congressional Republicans, including one fraught exchange with Representative Elise Stefanik, who demanded that Gay resign.
Stefanik, a Harvard alumnus herself, grilled Gay over whether the university would rescind admission offers to students who support Hamas’ murderous beliefs.
Gay pushed back, saying she would not commit to punishing students simply for expressing their views, even if she finds them “personally abhorrent,” apparently reversing university policy.
In 2017, Harvard reneged on admission offers for 10 would-be students after it came out that they circulated racist memes in a group chat.
The theme of Gay’s testimony was her dual commitment to “combating hate while preserving free expression.”
Gay said her administration would only punish “hateful, reckless, offensive speech” when it crosses the line into physical violence or targeted harassment.
Foxx, the panel’s chair, railed against Gay and the other university leaders, claiming that “institutional antisemitism and hate are among the poisoned fruits of your institutions’ cultures."
Republican lawmakers repeatedly criticized progressivism and tied it to antisemitism in higher education.
All three university presidents outlined their strategies for ensuring student safety and open discourse on the Israel-Hamas war.
"As an American, as a Jew, and as a human being, I abhor antisemitism. And my administration is combating it actively,” Sally Kornbluth, president of MIT, said, adding that “problematic speech needs to be countered with other speech and education.”
Kornbluth said free speech that promotes harassment or incites violence is not protected by the university, but those who try to shut down campus protests are essentially advocating for unworkable “speech codes."
Harvard and UPenn have struggled. Both schools found themselves under investigation by the Department of Education over complaints of antisemitism on campus.
“This is difficult work, and I know I have not always gotten it right,” Gay said of her efforts to promote free speech and inclusion. She noted the difficulty of balancing the concerns of different groups, including Harvard’s Muslim community, which Gay noted faces the threat of rising Islamophobia.
“During these difficult days, I have felt the bonds of our community strained,” Gay told lawmakers.
UPenn President M. Elizabeth Magill came under fire for the Palestine Writes Festival, an event hosted at her university in September that was a flashpoint of antisemitism, according to a complaint submitted to the Department of Education.
Magill condemned antisemitic rhetoric at the festival but maintained that measures had been instituted to ensure student safety.
The presidents made clear to the Republican-run House Committee on Education and the Workforce that their schools have taken steps to prevent harassment and bullying, including public announcements.
The president of Columbia was invited but did not attend, citing a scheduling conflict, Foxx’s office said.
November polling by the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel found that, since Oct. 7, 46% of Jewish students felt safe at their colleges, a marked drop from 67% before the war. Students across the nation said they were wary of walking around their campuses wearing a Star of David necklace, kippah or other emblems of Judaism.
In late October, an upperclassman at Cornell was taken into federal custody after allegedly making online posts promising to kill any and every Jew he saw on campus.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations and other advocacy groups reported that hate crimes against Muslim students were also on the rise.
Last month, a white man allegedly shot three Palestinian American college students in Burlington, Vermont. And, at Stanford, an Arab student was struck in a hit-and-run as the driver shouted, “F— you people!” according to witnesses.
Pro-Palestinian protesters have been doxxed — their names and pictures paraded around their campuses on mobile billboard trucks — in what activists say are attempts to intimidate them into silence.
China the No. 1 Country Sending Students to US, Data Show
China, India and South Korea sent the most students to the U.S. in 2023, according to Open Doors 2023 Report on International Educational Exchange. Open Doors is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
Among other things, the report broke down the schools with the largest number of international students. New York University took the top spot, with Northeastern University, Columbia University, Arizona State University and the University of Southern California rounding out the top five. Get the stats here. (November 2023)
International Students Boosted US Economy by $40 Billion in 2022-23
In the 2022-23 academic year, more than 1 million international students were in the U.S., and they contributed more than $40 billion to the U.S. economy, Forbes reports.
That figure's up 19% from the previous academic year, according to NAFSA: Association for International Educators.
Read the full story here. (November 2023)