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Harvard President Bacow Says He's Confident Appeals Court Will Uphold Admissions Decision

President Bacow
University President Lawrence S. Bacow has a conversation with a colleague in his office in Massachusetts Hall before an interview with The Crimson.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview on Monday that he is confident an appeals court will uphold a federal judge’s recent ruling that Harvard does not discriminate against Asian American applicants in its College admissions policies.

When it comes to Harvard’s chances at the Supreme Court, however, Bacow was less certain about the University’s prospects.

“I thought that we would win in the First Circuit Court of Appeals because the First Circuit is obliged to apply the law as it exists, and we're not violating the law,” Bacow said. “And then the case will go to the Supreme Court; we'll see what happens there.”

Bacow’s comments come nearly a week after federal judge Allison D. Burroughs ruled in favor of Harvard in a lawsuit brought by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions, who alleged that the College’s race-conscious admissions policies discriminate against Asian American applicants by holding them to higher standards.

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In her decision, Burroughs wrote that she did not find any evidence of intentional discrimination and that a race-conscious policy was necessary to ensure that the College admits a diverse student body. SFFA had previously alleged that Harvard did not adequately explore other race-neutral admissions policies.

Three days after Burroughs ruled in favor of Harvard, SFFA filed a notice of appeal to the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals. Bacow said this move on their part was “not surprising.”

Far from its conclusion, experts believe the high-profile case is expected to drag on for several more years, and some say it may go to the Supreme Court. The Court's decision could then decide the fate of affirmative action at universities and colleges across the nation.

If the case is appealed to the Supreme Court and the justices decide to hear it, Harvard’s chances remain uncertain in the face of recent Trump administration appointees, including Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Bacow’s confidence in Harvard’s appellate position has long been apparent. In a September 2018 interview with The Crimson, Bacow — early in his tenure as University president — affirmed that he was “confident” that Harvard would win their case in the District Court.

In her decision last week, Burroughs wrote that Harvard’s admissions process was “imperfect” and suggested a number of changes, including instituting implicit bias training for admissions officers, establishing clear guidelines on the use of race, and monitoring any race-related statistical disparities.

Bacow said Monday the University will work to “do better” in their admissions process following the decision.

“The judge pointed out that our admissions process is not perfect, and I don't know any process that's perfect,” Bacow said. “We will try and learn from the case and do better in the future.”

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at alexandra.chaidez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at aidan.ryan@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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