A judge for the US District Court of Massachusetts on Tuesday upheld Harvard University’s undergraduate admissions process, which had been challenged by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) as discriminatory against Asian American applicants.
Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits race discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. SFFA alleged that Harvard violates Title VI by intentionally discriminating against Asian Americans, using racial balancing, failing to use race merely as a “plus” factor in admissions decisions or to merely fill the last “few places” in the incoming freshman class, failing to use available and workable race-neutral alternatives, and using race as a factor in admissions.
The court found that Harvard does not have a quota for students from any racial group, but it monitors the racial distribution of admitted students to ensure diversity of the class. Although racial identity may be considered by admissions officers when they are assigning an applicant’s overall rating, race has no specified value in the admissions process and is never viewed as a negative attribute.
The judge found that Harvard could likely benefit from conducting implicit bias trainings for admissions officers, maintaining clear guidelines on the use of race in the admissions process, and monitoring and making admissions officers aware of any significant race-related statistical disparities in the rating process.
“Though Harvard’s admissions process is not perfect,” wrote Judge Allison Burroughs in her opinion, she would not “dismantle a very fine admissions program that passes constitutional muster, solely because it could do better.”