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Khurana Says 2013 Report Showing Disadvantage for Asian-American Harvard Applicants ‘Was Not Correct’

Rakesh Khurana
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana sits at his desk in University Hall.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana maintained in an interview Thursday that “there is no evidence” that Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants.

His remarks came just weeks before a high-profile lawsuit alleging exactly that is slated to go to trial in a Boston courthouse.

The suit — brought by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions in 2014 — generated national headlines this summer after court filings revealed previously unknown details of the College’s secretive admissions process. Perhaps most explosively, the documents showed that the University’s internal research division penned a confidential report in 2013 that concluded Harvard’s admissions process produces “negative effects” for Asian-American Harvard hopefuls.

In the interview, Khurana — who reviewed the study when it first came out in 2013 — argued that report “was not correct.”

“It did not reflect the data, the process, that one would want in a social science report that looks at important issues like discrimination,” he said.

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Khurana did not directly answer a question asking whether he thinks Harvard should have acted on the conclusions of the 2013 report in any way. He also did not answer a question asking whether he believes Harvard should have published the report in 2013.

Instead, Khurana pointed to expert studies the University commissioned as part of its legal defense. He particularly highlighted the findings of a Harvard-paid expert, Berkeley professor David E. Card, who concluded in court filings that Asian-American applicants are not disadvantaged in the College’s admissions process.

SFFA has also hired experts — who reached the opposite conclusion. Peter S. Arcidiacono, a Duke professor employed by SFFA, concluded in his court filings that Asian-American Harvard applicants do suffer a disadvantage.

“No rational factfinder could conclude that Harvard’s admissions system complies with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act,” SFFA argued in a June briefing. Title VI bars discrimination based on race, among other criteria.

Still, Khurana isn’t buying it.

“When you look at the totality of the evidence, when you look at the expert witness reports done by one of the finest statisticians in the country — if not in the world — and you use all the data that is available and you model the process that reflects the holistic admissions process, there is no evidence that Harvard discriminates,” Khurana said.

The lawsuit, which could determine the fate of affirmative action in the United States, is scheduled to go to trial starting Oct. 15.

Khurana is one of a handful of Harvard administrators — including former University President Drew G. Faust and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 — both Harvard and SFFA indicated they will call as witnesses in court filings submitted Monday.

When asked how he is preparing for his testimony, Khurana declined to answer.

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at caroline.engelmayer@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

—Staff writer Michael E. Xie can be reached at michael.xie@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelEXie1.

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