UC Berkeley professor to serve as key witness for Harvard University in admissions lawsuit

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UC Berkeley economics professor David Card will serve as an expert witness for Harvard University as it defends itself in court against allegations that it has set quotas that discriminate against Asian American students in its admissions process.

Students for Fair Admissions, or SFFA, sued Harvard University, alleging that Asian Americans must outperform students from other minority groups to gain admission. The trial for this widely watched suit began Monday, and Harvard will defend its admissions process using Card’s research as evidence in its case.

Card ultimately found no evidence that Harvard intentionally discriminates against Asian American students. His research furthermore states that if Harvard eliminated the challenged admission practices along with the consideration of race, “the resulting class would have significantly fewer students who identify as Asian-American, Hispanic, or Other,” according to court documents.

“The College’s admissions process does not discriminate against anybody,” said President of Harvard University Lawrence Bacow in a letter to the community. “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.”

SFFA accuses Harvard of using a “personal rating” — in which Harvard looks at letters of recommendation, essays, extracurriculars and athletics in addition to academics — that reflects a bias against Asian American students.

According to court documents, Card’s research shows that there is no verifiable racial bias inherent in the use of personal ratings. He concludes that the personal ratings include relevant data on applicants’ nonacademic attributes that are “not captured by other factors.” Card finds that there are no statistical models that can reliably estimate how race affects the personal rating, according to the court filing.

Bob Laird, a former UC Berkeley admissions director, said he was not at all surprised that Harvard was being challenged.

Laird believes the case could make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the plaintiffs will find allies among the “conservative” court, given the recent confirmation of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Laird added that he believes Harvard has a careful admissions process — one that is cautious on the way it considers race. Laird said that because of this, he stands with its admission process.

Robert Rhew, a UC Berkeley associate professor and chair of the campus geography department, wrote an opinion piece published in The New York Times on Tuesday defending the use of affirmative action. As an Asian American Harvard University alumnus, he argued that Harvard’s “race-conscious” admission policy enhances the quality of its education. Rhew says this adds to a well-rounded academic experience, rich with a broad range of cultural and racial interactions.

Raymond Wong, the director of the Asian American Coalition for Education legal committee, believes that there is sufficient data to prove that Harvard is discriminating against Asian American students. Wong said he is not against affirmative action, but opposes the use of it to create racial quotas.

“I think that Harvard … should really correct (its admission policy) instead of fighting it,” Wong said. “To be a leader it is to do the right thing, not to be forced to do the right thing.”

Contact Julie Madsen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.