Federal judge recommends 'bias trainings' for Harvard admission officers in affirmative action ruling

Harvard argued that the process was meant to ensure a more diverse student body.

A federal judge has sided with Harvard University in a years-long affirmative action admissions policy lawsuit.

The 2014 complaint alleged that Harvard engaged in discriminatory admissions practices by holding Asian American applicants to a higher standard.

In a long-anticipated ruling, a federal judge sided Tuesday with Harvard University in a lawsuit challenging the Ivy League’s admissions policy.

A 2014 complaint alleged that Harvard University intentionally raised the bar for Asian American applicants in an attempt to achieve a more diverse student body. 

”Notwithstanding the fact that Harvard’s admissions program survives strict scrutiny, it is not perfect,” U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs wrote in her decision. “The process would likely benefit from conducting implicit bias trainings for admissions officers, maintaining clear guidelines on the use of race in the admissions process, which were developed during this litigation, and monitoring and making admissions officers aware of any significant race-related statistical disparities in the rating process.”

[RELATED: Complaint: Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants]

”That being said,” Burroughs added, “the Court will not dismantle a very fine admissions program that passes constitutional muster, solely because it could do better. There is always the specter of perfection, but strict scrutiny does not require it and a few identified imperfections, after years of litigating and sifting through applications and metrics, do not alone require a finding that Harvard’s admissions program is not narrowly tailored.”

Burroughs cited “valuable data” that the university “has at its disposal,” though she cautioned against an admissions process that is “overly data-driven.”

”Throughout this trial and after a careful review of all exhibits and written submissions, there is no evidence of any racial animus whatsoever or intentional discrimination on the part of Harvard beyond its use of a race conscious admissions policy, nor is there evidence that any particular admissions decision was negatively affected by Asian American identity,” the decision states.

Plaintiff Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) had claimed that while Asian American applicants bested those of other races in categories such as test scores and grades, the Ivy League institution ranked Asian American applicants in areas like likability, “widely respected,” and “positive personality.”

[RELATED: Harvard derides affirmative action lawsuit as ‘ideological’]

”The University must continue to use this data to scrutinize the fairness of its admissions program; to assess whether changing demographics have undermined the need for a race-conscious policy; and to identify the effects, both positive and negative, of the affirmative-action measures it deems necessary. The Court’s affirmance of the University’s admissions policy today does not necessarily mean the University may rely on that same policy without refinement. It is the University’s ongoing obligation to engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection regarding its admissions policies,” Burroughs added. 

SFFA President Edward Blum said that his group would appeal Burroughs’ decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to CNN.

”We believe that the documents, emails, data analysis and depositions SFFA presented at trial compellingly revealed Harvard’s systematic discrimination against Asian American applicants,” he said.

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