Do Harvard Admissions Officers Discriminate?


Ryan Phillips, Editor-in-chief

As January begins and the college application season for high school seniors approaches its end, more and more conversations take place concerning college admissions. After all, it is never made explicit to students why they are rejected from colleges—or why they are accepted, for that matter. Inevitably, students and their families wonder, “What factors helped or possibly weakened my applications?” as colleges release their admission decisions.

Recently, Harvard University agreed to hand over years of confidential applicant and student records to the U.S. Justice Department, which, backed by complaints from a coalition of Asian-American organizations, had launched an aggressive investigation into whether the university has systematically discriminated against highly qualified Asian-American applicants in order to admit more white, black, and Hispanic applicants that are less qualified. Harvard had stated in the past that it does not discriminate based on race; rather, in order to create a more diverse student body, it considers intangible factors. These intangible factors include extracurriculars, essays, rather than GPA and test scores. Harvard, in effect, claims that many of the rejected Asian applicants boasting über-high standardized test scores and GPAs are lacking in other areas—areas in which applicants of other races can be stronger and because of which can be admitted in place of the higher-performing Asian applicant.

The Justice Department had cited Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating based on race, color, or national origin. If it found that Harvard discriminates based on race, the government could cut funds for Harvard.

The question of what the Justice Department will find remains, but some are confident in a sort of quota system in place at not only Harvard but other ‘diverse’ universities as well. They point to the dubiously constant percentages of admitted white, black, Hispanic, and Asian applicants each year despite wavering percentages of applicants.

As the investigation continues, all students can do is hope that their college applications are evaluated fairly. That, of course, can only be the case is if racial discrimination is absent in the college admissions process.