Judge Upholds Harvard's Race-Conscious Admissions Process
NOEL KING, HOST:
A federal judge ruled that Harvard does not intentionally discriminate against Asian American applicants. This case was a major challenge to affirmative action at the college level. An advocacy group called Students for Fair Admissions brought the lawsuit, and they said Harvard sets higher standards for Asian American applicants. Carrie Jung is a reporter at member station WBUR. She's been following this case. Good morning, Carrie.
CARRIE JUNG, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So the judge, Allison Burroughs, in her ruling said Harvard's admissions process is, quote, "not perfect," but she did have a lot more to say. Lay out for us what was in this ruling.
JUNG: Yes. She had quite a bit to say. She set out this very detailed ruling, which came in at around 130 pages yesterday. And in that, she dispelled really any notions that the school might use a racial balancing system, which is kind of like a quota, and that's not legal under federal law. And she also decided that Harvard did prove its case in court, through testimony and a lot of statistics, that race is not weighed too heavily or it's not a deciding factor in the admissions process. And as you mentioned, yet Judge Burroughs did note that Harvard's admissions process or system is not perfect. In fact, she suggested that the school consider implicit bias training. But she did conclude by calling the system a fine system. And she doesn't want to dismantle it, especially because it serves a compelling interest, and that's maintaining diversity on campus.
KING: You know, this was one of those legal fights that really made it into the public conversation. There were some things revealed about who Harvard admits and how that raised a lot of eyebrows. How is each side responding now that a judge has ruled?
JUNG: Well, in a statement, Harvard is calling the ruling a victory for students, diversity and the rule of law. I spoke last night with Rachel Kleinman. She's with the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund. They joined Harvard as a friend of the court last year representing student and alumni groups. She told me that she's thrilled about this ruling because a case like this can make other schools rethink or at least reaffirm their affirmative action policies.
RACHEL KLEINMAN: I think this is such a clear signal that they can continue to be doing this important work to be admitting diverse classes. And so I think this is a real victory for colleges and universities and the students who attend them across the country.
JUNG: Now, the plaintiffs say they're very disappointed. They are planning to appeal and they say they're prepared to take this case to the Supreme Court, if that's what it takes. And in their statement, they said that they felt that the evidence they presented did make a compelling argument that Harvard unfairly discriminates against Asian Americans.
KING: There is some reason to think that a case like this would make it to the Supreme Court. If it does, what would that mean for affirmative action, not just at Harvard but across the country?
JUNG: Yeah, I've spoken with several other college and university leaders, and they say they're worried that if this case goes the other way in one of the court rulings and they can't consider race as at least a factor in admissions, they argue that their classes would be a lot less diverse. And, you know, to be honest, this wouldn't be Edward Blum's first time at the Supreme Court. Edward Blum is the president of the Students for Fair Admissions, which is the plaintiff here. In 2016, he was heavily involved in the Fisher vs. the University of Texas case. He did lose that one, but it is pretty clear he's an opponent of affirmative action and the consideration of race-conscious admissions.
KING: And the Supreme Court is more conservative now, so that's something we need to keep an eye on, yeah. Carrie Jung of WBUR, thank you so much for your reporting. We really appreciate it.
JUNG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.