As the Harvard admissions lawsuit proceeds, the College’s previously confidential admissions information has been made public. Based on these materials, we believe that despite the presence of unfortunate imperfections and perhaps implicit biases in the process, the College is making a strong effort to give each student a fair, holistic review.
This conclusion is based largely on the reality that the number of talented applicants deserving a spot at Harvard far exceeds the number that Harvard is able to admit. Given this harsh competition, SAT score and GPA become obsolete metrics of comparison when the majority of applicants have acceptable scores. Harvard is therefore hard-pressed to make its admissions process more “meritocratic” than it already is. As a result, the Admissions Office must use softer metrics to choose students that align with its values. As a private educational institution, Harvard should be allowed to make such value judgements in what will always be an imperfect science of predicting each applicant’s potential for success.
That being said, we do not in any way endorse racial discrimination, whether that be explicit or implicit. The evidence that Harvard could be systematically assigning lower “personality scores” to Asian Americans is therefore highly disturbing and should not be tolerated. As this lawsuit has made clear, more training for racial bias, explicit reminders that race cannot be considered in personality scores, and the hiring of admissions officers from diverse backgrounds are all important steps that Harvard must take. Most importantly, the admissions office must proactively and regularly review its performance in upholding the value of non-discrimination.
While there is certainly room for progress, a review of Harvard’s 2012 Casebook for admissions officers supports the conclusion that the College does not discriminate intentionally. Harvard makes a good-faith effort to get a complete understanding of its applicants prior to each admissions decision. For instance, the committee does not mindlessly accept letters of recommendation — instead, it calls the recommender in question, the school, and even the student to gain a fuller picture. This type of outreach is above and beyond what one would expect of a university with such a large pool of competitive applicants.
Although this trial has served as a good opportunity to understand the thought process of the admissions office, it is noteworthy that this newfound transparency may not level the playing field for applicants. We agree with Harvard’s assessment that providing this information may worsen inequality in the application process by giving wealthier students a greater edge. Knowing which character traits the University looks for will make it easier for expensive college counselors to perfect their services and give students from wealthy families an even greater boost. We thus call upon Harvard to continue its outreach to low-income and minority students and do whatever it can to erase barriers to success.
This staff editorial is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.