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Expert Economists Testify in Harvard Admissions Trial

Written on Wednesday, November 7th, 2018 by Kimberly DelMonico
Filed under: ExpertWitness

Expert economists are offering testimony in the trial of Harvard University as it defends itself against allegations that its admissions quotas discriminate against Asian Americans.

The Lawsuit

Students for Fair Admissions, or SFFA, sued Harvard University in federal district court, alleging that the university set admission criteria that discriminated against Asian American students.

SFFA is a nonprofit association whose stated mission is “to defend human and civil rights secured by law, including the right of individuals to equal protection under the law, through litigation and any other lawful means.” Its true mission, according to Alex Beam, is to end racial preferences in college admissions and employment that provide greater opportunities for nonwhite applicants.

Members of SFFA applied to Harvard and were denied admission. They claim that Asian American students must outperform students from other minority groups in order to gain admission to Harvard. SFFA alleges that Harvard uses a “personal rating” system that is biased against Asian American students.

SFFA’s complaint against Harvard referenced its history of discrimination. SFFA noted that under Harvard’s president Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1909-1933), the Harvard administration restricted the numbers of Jewish students who were admitted to Harvard. SFFA alleges that the Harvard College Admissions Program plan that is currently used in the admissions process was created for the specific purpose of discriminating against Jewish applicants.

President of Harvard University Lawrence Bacow wrote a letter to the university community stating, “The College’s admissions process does not discriminate against anybody…. I am confident the evidence presented at trial will establish that fact. The Supreme Court has twice ruled on this issue and has held up our admissions process as an exemplar of how, in seeking to achieve a diverse student body, race may enter the process as one factor among many in consideration.”

Expert Economists

Harvard retained UC Berkeley economics professor David Card to serve as its expert witness at trial. Card determined that there was no evidence that Harvard intentionally discriminates against Asian American students. Card’s research indicated that if Harvard eliminated the challenged admission practice and the consideration of race, “the resulting class would have significantly fewer students who identify as Asian-American, Hispanic, or Other.”

Card concluded that there is no verifiable racial bias inherent in the use of personal ratings. His research showed that Harvard’s personal ratings included relevant data on the applicants’ non-academic attributes that are “not captured by other factors.” Card also concluded that there are no statistical models that can reliably estimate how race affects the personal rating.

Professor Peter Arcidiacono was retained by SFFA as their expert. Arcidiacono is a labor economist and Professor of Economics at Duke University. Arcidiacono concluded that Harvard’s admission process penalizes Asian American applicants. His report stated that “race plays a significant role in admissions decisions”; “Asian Americans are the primary group hurt by preferences given in Harvard’s Admissions Office”; there is an “artificial floor for African-American admit rates”; and, moreover, his “findings are consistent with Harvard’s own internal analyses before this lawsuit.”

SFFA also retained Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation and an author who has written several books on affirmative action. Kahlenberg’s report concluded that Harvard has failed to fully consider any of the numerous race-neutral alternatives that could achieve the educational benefits of diversity and that there are race-neutral alternative available that could provide Harvard with the educational benefits of diversity without the use of racial preferences.


By Joseph Williams (originally posted to Flickr as Harvard) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

About Kimberly DelMonico

Kimberly DelMonico is a licensed attorney in New York and Nevada. She received her law degree from William S. Boyd School of Law at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and her undergraduate degree from New York University, where she studied psychology and broadcast journalism.

About Kimberly DelMonico

Kimberly DelMonico is a licensed attorney in New York and Nevada. She received her law degree from William S. Boyd School of Law at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and her undergraduate degree from New York University, where she studied psychology and broadcast journalism.

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