Harvard University, as many know, is in the process of a legal suit trying to determine whether, in their admission policies, they have been biased toward Asian American students, compared to other applicants. The trial started on Oct 15, and soon after the Wall Street Journal released an internal document on how Harvard evaluates different applicants. It was a somewhat interesting read, but overall, there was nothing that did not scream or even hint at discrimination.
Basically, the document showed step by step the process at which evaluators need to categorize the applicant pool. There were some score boundaries for SAT, how to flag alumni applicants and athletes and other categories of students to help the admission committee determine whether a student is admissible or not. Again, there was nothing really at all revealing nor would one expect there to be in a document that is setting out the guidelines for evaluators.
Maybe the fact that this document is an internal document so it gets those unfamiliar with the admission process excited, but the reality is that if you have been in admission on either side of the desk – university representative or college counselor, the information is not particularly surprising nor will it expose Harvard to the information the prosecutors are looking for in determining their case.
The question in my mind is whether there is a case at all. First, we need to make sure everyone understands that the focus is on Asian Americans. That means Asians who are Americans. So then we must next suppose is whether Asian Americans need to have a higher profile – activities, test scores and overall performance higher that let’s say a Caucasian American. Possibly. Even if that is true, it is important to reflect on the specific applicant pools and their background, overall ability, and achievements. Are they different? Again possibly and probably more probable that an Asian cohort of applicants presents a higher set of boundaries than the top Caucasian American. Possible.
But then we need or more importantly, the prosecution needs to be able to prove that there was some bias in the admission process toward Asian Americans. Given the document that was released, there are all sorts of categories in which a student is being evaluated and assessed. If we could consider a different scenario for the moment, lets say Olympic sports, then it might be possible to understand the minute differences a National Team or Harvard, in this case, needs to make to accept a person on to the team or in the class: highly qualified and perhaps uniquely prepared at an exceedingly high level. But not everyone is going to be accepted to the team nor can Harvard admit every qualified candidate. It all boils down to not everyone in the Olympics wins a Gold Medal. And also, to point out the obvious, they also want a diverse class that is not all outstanding overly qualified candidates. They want a diverse and vibrant cohort that will be successful.
It is very clear that Harvard works to create this very diverse entering class in the admission process. They are culling through approximately 42,749 applicants to admit 2,024. No easy task when 87.2% are American, and 12.8% are international who are all amazing, world-class students. What is interesting is that last year 22.9% of the students admitted were, yes, you guessed it Asian American, the highest percentage of students admitted!
As the trial progresses, there may be some interesting bits and pieces of information. It is possible that Harvard is found culpable. But based on this “secret” document released, this is not where the evidence will be found.