Harvard decision upholds race as factor in admissions

Lauren Grobe

A federal judge upheld Harvard University’s use of race in its admissions process last week and ruled against Students for Fair Admissions, a group that is also suing UT for using race in its admission process.

According to the Students for Fair Admissions 2014 lawsuit, Harvard violated Title VI, which prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity. They claimed in the Harvard lawsuit intentionally discriminated against Asian Americans, used racial quotas, considered race as more than a “plus factor” and refused to use race-neutral alternatives. Part of organization’s membership consists of Asian Americans who were denied admission, according to the ruling. 

In the ruling, Judge Allison Burroughs wrote Harvard’s admission process complied with the precedent decided in Fisher v. University of Texas in 2016, which states race may be considered in college applications under strict scrutiny. Burroughs wrote that race was never a disadvantage when considering an applicant, and Harvard’s admission process does not intentionally discriminate against Asian American applicants.

Harvard president Lawrence Bacow said in a statement that the ruling affirmed Harvard’s commitment to diversity.

“The consideration of race, alongside many other factors, helps us achieve our goal of creating a diverse student body,” Bacow said. “Everyone admitted to Harvard College has something unique to offer our community.”

Students for Fair Admissions president Edward Blum said in a statement he is disappointed with the ruling. The group appealed the ruling Friday to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

“Students for Fair Admissions looks forward to making our appeal to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Blum said.

The organization has refiled its current lawsuit against UT in Travis County District Court in May for the University’s use of race in their admissions policies. The organization’s first lawsuit was dropped when judges said no one who was suing had been affected by the policies.

“The university misuses its ‘diversity’ rationale as pretext to justify the admission of underqualified, well-connected applicants,” Students for Fair Admissions wrote in their
original lawsuit.

The organization’s leader was also involved in Abigail Fisher’s lawsuit against the University, which she lost in the Supreme Court in 2016. Fisher argued she was denied admission because being Caucasian put her at a disadvantage, violating the Equal Protection Clause.

The Supreme Court first considered the case in 2013 and then again in 2016, where they accepted the University’s argument that developing student body diversity requires the consideration of race in admissions.

In the 2016 Fisher ruling, former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the University accurately and fairly considered applicants by including race and other lifestyle factors as part of admission.

“Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission,” Kennedy wrote.

UT President Gregory Fenves said in a 2015 statement that the University’s holistic review process allows for more student body diversity.

“Our university — and the nation as a whole — benefits when we educate future leaders in an environment rich in the very diversity that has made this nation great,” Fenves said.