On Monday Oct. 15, 2018, a high-stakes and high-profile lawsuit alleging Harvard's admissions process is discriminatory went to trial in a Boston courthouse.
The suit, brought by anti-affirmative action advocacy group Students for Fair Admissions in 2014, charges that the College rejects deserving Asian-American applicants in favor of less qualified applicants of other races. Harvard has repeatedly and unequivocally denied all allegations of discrimination.
The case may wind up deciding the fate of affirmative action in the United States. The trial wrapped up in three weeks, leaving matters in the hands of Judge Allison D. Burroughs, who is expected to issue a final verdict — on her own, without a jury — some time in the next few months. No matter how Burroughs rules, though, the disappointed party will likely appeal. A cascading series of appeals could bring the matter before the Supreme Court, whose recent shift to the right — cemented by the appointment of controversial and conservative Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh — means the nation's highest court will probably side with SFFA.
Throughout October and into November, Harvard affiliates, reporters, and curious members of the public packed into three crowded courtrooms every weekday to listen to University and SFFA lawyers do battle over the legality and viability of race-conscious admissions on college campuses. Trial proceedings — held in Courtroom 17 in the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse — typically lasted from around 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For the duration of the trial, The Crimson updated this article with a brief summary of what went down in the courtroom each and every day. Relive a tumultuous three weeks below.
WEEK THREE IN HEADLINES
Nov. 2, 2018
WHO: The final day of the trial belonged to the lawyers. Attorneys for both Harvard and SFFA gave lengthy closing statements to an overflowing courtroom. Dozens of Harvard undergraduates showed up for the last session of the trial, many of them wearing school gear and carrying copies of The Crimson.
WHAT: SFFA charged yet again that Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants, rehashing allegations that College officials allowed racial prejudice to dictate the way they treated high schoolers of Asian heritage in the admissions process. The University, meanwhile, denied all these charges and sought to undermine SFFA's credibility. Read the full story here.
— Staff writers Shera S. Avi-Yonah, Delano R. Franklin, Iris M. Lewis, and Samuel W. Zwickel contributed reporting.
Nov. 1, 2018
WHO: Harvard's paid statistical expert wrapped up his testimony and a former University president stepped up to testify on the penultimate day of the trial.
WHAT: A lot of people played defense. Card continued to defend his statistical analysis of Harvard admissions data, McGrath defended earlier comments she made asserting Harvard does not issue written guidance on how to use race in its admissions process, and Faust defended diversity initiatives she pursued during her 11-year tenure in the University's top job.
— Staff writers Alexandra A. Chaidez, Delano R. Franklin, Molly C. McCafferty, and Samuel W. Zwickel contributed reporting.
Oct. 31, 2018
— Staff writers Shera S. Avi-Yonah, Iris M. Lewis, and Aidan F. Ryan contributed reporting.
Oct. 30, 2018
WHO: The former president of Brown University and Harvard's paid statistical expert stepped up to testify Tuesday.
WHAT: Simmons vehemently defended Harvard's admissions policies. Card defended his pre-trial statistical analysis that concluded the College does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants.
— Staff writers Alexandra A. Chaidez, Iris M. Lewis, Molly C. McCafferty, Sanjana L. Narayanan, and Cindy H. Zhang contributed reporting.
Oct. 29, 2018
WHO: Eight current and former Harvard students took the witness stand Monday to argue for race-conscious admissions — and against a race-blind process. Speakers included the below — and you can read profiles of every student here.
WHAT: The students and alumni mounted an impassioned defense of affirmative action and detailed the vital benefits they say it brings to Harvard's campus.
— Staff writers Shera S. Avi-Yonah, Alexandra A. Chaidez, Delano R. Franklin, Molly C. McCafferty, Aidan F. Ryan, and Samuel W. Zwickel contributed reporting.
WEEK TWO IN HEADLINES:
Oct. 26, 2018
WHO: Harvard lawyer William F. Lee '72 continued his cross-examination of SFFA expert witness and Duke economist Peter S. Arcidiacono.
WHAT: Lee sought to show that Arcidiacono's pre-trial analysis of Harvard admissions data — in which the Duke professor concluded the College discriminates against Asian-American applicants — was fatally flawed.
— Staff writers Alexandra A. Chaidez, Delano R. Franklin, Iris M. Lewis, Samuel W. Zwickel, and Sanjana L. Narayanan contributed reporting.
Oct. 25, 2018
WHO: SFFA expert witness and Duke economist Peter S. Arcidiacono took the witness stand Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. and did not leave it — apart from a break for lunch — until proceedings closed for the day at 4 p.m.
WHAT: The ninth day of the trial was all about data.
— Staff writers Alexandra A. Chaidez, Cindy H. Zhang, Molly C. McCafferty, and Sanjana L. Narayanan contributed reporting.
Oct. 24, 2018
WHO: Three Harvard Admissions officials took the stand Thursday, as did a former analyst for the University’s Office of Institutional Research.
Harvard witness Mark F. Hansen, who currently serves as the Director of Research Technology at MIT’s Consortium on Financing Higher Education, took the witness stand to testify about his former work as an analyst for Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research. He was cross-examined by SFFA attorney John M. Hughes; Harvard lawer Felicia H. Ellsworth followed with her own direct examination.
After, Harvard witness Roger Banks — a Senior Associate Director of Admissions at the College who has worked at the admissions office since 1980 — testified about how race-related statistics are discussed at top universities. J. Michael Connolly from SFFA cross-examined Banks; Ellsworth again followed with direct examination.
After lunch, SFFA Lawyer Adam K. Mortara and University lawyer Ara B. Gershengorn ’93 questioned Assistant Director of Financial Aid and Senior Admissions Officer Charlene Kim.
Tia M. Ray '12, Admissions Officer and Director of the Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program, took the stand next to answer questions from SFFA Lawyer Katherine L.I. Hacker and then University lawyer Danielle Y. Conley.
WHAT: Harvard admissions officials repeated previous assertions that the University does not discriminate in its admissions process and that race is simply one factor among many that admissions officers weigh when evaluating candidates. Hansen again defended a 2013 OIR report that found the College's admissions system disadvantages Asian Americans.
In a moment of levity, Judge Allison D. Burroughs opened the day’s proceedings by referengin the upcoming Halloween festivities. She said she has been busy making sure her two boys have cool costumes. One of them plans to dress up as the character Link from Zelda.
For the second time during the trial, a representative from the OIR took the stand to defend the group’s 2013 internal report that concluded the College’s admissions policies produce “negative effects” for Asian Americans — a report Hansen insisted was preliminary and inconclusive, as Harvard has done since it became public in court filings this summer.
Hansen said his analysis “could provide evidence that Asians” were “disadvantaged” in the admissions process, but said it fails to account for all possible factors and that his models “do not establish causal relationships.”
Connolly questioned Banks about his consideration of race in admissions decisions. Banks said that, at full committee meetings held to make final admissions decisions, Dean of Admissions William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 keeps officers updated on “where we are along a variety of planes” — including the burgeoning racial demographics of that year's class.
Connolly said he has “never” been told to admit more or fewer applicants from a certain racial background.
Charlene Kim, Banks’ fellow admissions officer, testified that she has never received written instructions on how admissions officers should use race when considering applicants. But she said Harvard's Office of General Counsel talks to the admissions office every year about the “legal landscape” surrounding the role race can play in admissions.
Finally, Ray took the stand. She fielded questions on the “lop” process via which admissions officers remove certain students to scale down the admitted class to an appropriate size.
Ray admitted that ethinicity, lineage, athlete status, and financial aid hold sway in the lopping process but said these are "not the only factors" considered.
— Staff writers Aidan F. Ryan, Caroline S. Engelmayer, and Samuel W. Zwickel contributed reporting.
Oct. 23, 2018
WHO: Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrapped up his testimony Tuesday and former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science Michael D. Smith replaced him behind the witness stand.
WHAT: Khurana continued to defend Harvard's race-conscious admissions policies, repeatedly asserting the school does not discriminate. Smith took fire over a committee he chaired months ago that explored race-neutral alternatives to the admissions process before concluding the College should stick to its current model.
— Staff writers Alexandra A. Chaidez, Delano R. Franklin, Iris M. Lewis, and Molly C. McCafferty contributed reporting.
Oct. 22, 2018
WHO: Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana took the witness stand for the first time Monday. He is the highest-ranking Harvard administrator to speak in court to date.
SFFA attorney Patrick Strawbridge directly examined Kahlenberg for the first half of the morning; Harvard lead trial lawyer William F. Lee ’72 followed up with a fiery cross-examination.
Later, Harvard College’s Director of Admissions Marlyn E. McGrath '70 — who first took the stand Friday — answered a series of questions from Lee and from Students for Fair Admissions lawyer Adam K. Mortara.
After McGrath stepped down, Khurana took her place, facing off against Mortara.
WHAT: SFFA expert Kahlenberg argued that Harvard has not adequately explored race-neutral alternatives to its admissions process. In the afternoon, during a tense bout of questioning, Khurana said he is okay with the fact Harvard’s student body skews wealthy.
Lee questioned Kahlenberg’s legitimacy as an expert and — by extension — SFFA’s viability as an organization. He noted Kahlenberg has earned compensation from the group in the past
After lunch, Khurana took the stand wearing a blue sports coat and a purple checkered shirt.
Mortara pressed Khurana on whether the Harvard admissions process disadvantages Asian-American applicants and Khurana repeatedly insisted it does not. Mortara then asked whether Khurana is aware that, while the portion of U.S. households boasting an income of over $150,000 hovers around 5 percent, individuals in that income bracket make up roughly 30 percent of Harvard’s student body. Khurana did not dispute either statistic.
Mortara followed up by asking whether Khurana believes the socioeconomic makeup of the College’s student body should more closely match national demographics, to which the dean replied, “I don’t.”
“We’re not trying to mirror the socioeconomic or income distribution of the United States,” Khurana said. “What we’re trying to do is identify talent and make it possible for them to come to a place like Harvard." Read the full story here.
— Staff writers Aidan F. Ryan, Cindy H. Zhang, and Samuel W. Zwickel contributed reporting.
WEEK ONE IN HEADLINES:
Friday, Oct. 19, 2018
WHO: A series of Harvard administrators took the stand Friday to face cross-examination from both SFFA and University attorneys.
WHAT: Bever defended Harvard's apparent failure to take significant action to respond to a 2013 internal report that concluded the College's admissions process produces "negative effects" for Asian Americans. Driver-Linn also discussed the report. McGrath faced a series of questions from SFFA lawyers about internal emails she exchanged with Harvard admissions officers and with her daughter.
— Staff writers Alexandra A. Chaidez, Cindy H. Zhang, and Shera S. Avi-Yonah contributed reporting.
Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018
Note: Overall admissions rate also includes Native American/Native Hawaiian, International, and Unknown/Other students.
WHO: The College's dean of admissions and financial aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 wrapped up his testimony and successive Harvard admissions officers stepped up to take his place behind the witness stand.
WHAT: Fitzsimmons walked through Harvard's admissions process in detail. Looby spoke about whether and how College admissions officers consider race when evaluating applicants. Bever took questions about a confidential 2013 report she helped produce that suggested Harvard's admissions system produces "negative effects" for Asian Americans.
— Staff writers Molly C. McCafferty, Sanjana L. Narayanan, and Aidan F. Ryan contributed reporting.
Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018
WHO: The College's dean of admissions and financial aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 remained on the witness stand for hours on the third day of the Harvard admissions trial.
WHAT: Hughes sought to prove that Harvard unfairly favors the wealthy and well-connected in its admissions process. He then revived an earlier line of argument by referencing the confidential 2013 report that concluded the College's admissions system produces "negative effects" for Asian Americans. Lee, meanwhile, asked Fitzsimmons to describe the way Harvard evaluates applicants — and later gave Fitzsimmons a chance to discuss his own experience as a low-income College student in the 1970s.
Read a full account of day three here.
— Staff writers Aidan F. Ryan, Delano R. Franklin, Iris M. Lewis, Molly C. McCafferty, and Samuel W. Zwickel contributed reporting.
Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018
WHO: Day two of the Harvard admissions trial saw smaller crowds and further cross-examination of the College’s long-serving admissions dean.
William R. Fitzsimmons ’67, dean of admissions and financial aid, faced down several hours’ worth of questions from SFFA lawyer John M. Hughes.
William F. Lee ’72, a lawyer for the University and senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation, objected to several pieces of evidence Hughes presented over the course of the day. After a prolonged discussion about the relevance of one particular document, Fitzsimmons offered a moment of levity.
“I’m sorry, what is the question?” Fitzsimmons asked, spurring chuckles. “Is there a question?”
WHAT: Hughes grilled Fitzsimmons on the technical details of Harvard’s admissions process. He was interrupted around 11 a.m. by a fire alarm that forced lawyers, spectators, and members of the press to exit the courthouse and wait outside for roughly an hour in the chilly October air.
— Staff writers Alexandra A. Chaidez, Delano R. Franklin, Molly C. McCafferty, Sanjana L. Narayanan, and Aidan F. Ryan contributed reporting.
Monday, Oct. 15, 2018
WHO: On the opening day of the highly anticipated Harvard admissions trial, hordes of spectators and reporters crowded into two courtrooms and a jury assembly room to listen as lawyers for both the College and SFFA offered lengthy opening statements.
WHAT: Mortara and Lee mostly repeated arguments SFFA and Harvard have advanced before. Fitzsimmons defended against charges that Harvard neglects to recruit Asian-American high schoolers who score higher on the PSAT and SAT exams than do their peers of other races.
Read a full account of day one here.
— Staff writers Alexandra A. Chaidez, Aidan F. Ryan, Delano R. Franklin, Samuel W. Zwickel, and Sanjana L. Narayanan contributed reporting.