Harvard Lawsuit Calls Private Institutions’ Affirmative Action Into Question

Harvard University’s admissions lawsuit has gained widespread media attention and become noteworthy topic on college campuses. Specifically, it has sparked a discussion on Colgate’s campus about the university’s own admissions policy.

The plaintiff of the case, the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), cited that the Harvard Office of Admissions has discriminated against Asian American applicants.

The attorney for the plaintiff, Adam K. Mortara, used several statistical analyses of admissions to argue the unfairness in Harvard’s admissions system.

Mortara said that Harvard admissions unfairly evaluates Asian-American applicants lower in personal qualities as compared to other applicants in the admissions process.

The legal strategist of SFFA, Edward Blum, is a conservative litigant who founded the organization with a mission to expel any factors of race and ethnicity in the admissions for a university.

Harvard’s response to the lawsuit has included the release of admissions information that otherwise would not have been disclosed. Released legal documents reported that Harvard admissions officers do not take race into account in the four profile ratings of an applicant (academic, extra-curricular, athletic, and personal), but race may be considered in the final score an applicant is given. The Statement of Material Facts for Summary Judgement document in support of Harvard says that the magnitude to which race is recognized in the review of an applicant is “taken into account only flexibly, not automatically or mechanically.

Harvard has launched a website explaining that the lawsuit is hurting Harvard, as well as other academic institutions’ commitment to fostering a diverse student body for the betterment of their core educative values. The website denounces the plaintiffs’ accusation of discrimination in the admission process.

Other colleges and universities have defended Harvard in a joint amicus brief, including all the Ivy-League schools, as well as other institutions, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and Emory University. This amicus briefs asserts that a decision against Harvard has the potential to hurt academia, by being detrimental toward efforts to achieve a diverse student body in higher education.

This topic has also provoked a response on Colgate’s campus.

President Brian Casey said this case makes private institutions’ affirmative action practices vulnerable until a decision is reached, which he thinks won’t happen for quite some time.

“Whatever happens, this is going to be appealed and go back and forth, but the real target is affirmative action. What I think we’re learning is that these things, they’re not a binary,” Casey said. “Affirmative action for one group might harm another group so we’re learning that this is complicated.”

Colgate has made no adjustments to its admissions policy and has not yet released a statement regarding the Harvard lawsuit. Casey said that the Department of Justice has notified Colgate and about three dozen elite institutions that they might seek admissions data from them in the near future. No matter the decision of the Supreme Court Decision, Casey does not feel Colgate should adopt a race blind admissions procedure.

“We seek a diverse class, and we continue to do so. And I’d say both proudly and rightly, absolutely. Absolutely. And I also think a University is allowed to put together a class that they think meets the needs of the institution. I think it’s one of our rights. I really believe that,” Casey said.

Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Gary Ross also emphasized the importance of a well-rounded community using admissions.

“Colleges and universities are stronger institutions really in any measurable way, really when they are communities, reflect the world around them in the broadest sense of that term,” Ross said.

Sophomore Will Yi said that, on the possibility of the trial decision favoring the plaintiff, Harvard would have to change their policies, whether that ends up being for better or for worse.

Previous high profile court cases involving affirmative action in institutions of higher education have received widespread coverage as well, as seen in Supreme Court cases, Fisher v. University of Texas (2016) and Gratz v. Bollinger (2003).

Contact Finn Schuemann at [email protected].