Harvard University’s dean of admissions testified on Tuesday that weaker recommendations are one of the reasons Asian-American applicants score lower than white applicants when it comes to personal ratings.
Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons said white applicants had “somewhat stronger” teacher and guidance-counselor recommendations than Asian-American applicants, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. Fitzsimmons noted, however, that he did not know how Asian-American applicants’ recommendations fared against black or Hispanic applicants.
Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a nonprofit that opposes race-based admissions in higher education, filed a lawsuit against Harvard in 2014 for holding Asian-American applicants to higher standards. (RELATED: Harvard’s Undergraduate Council Wants To Keep Race-Based Admission, But Also Wants ‘Bias Training’ For Admissions Officers)
The group found during an inspection of over 160,000 student records that Asian-American applicants were scored lower on traits like “positive personality,” likability, and whether they were “widely respected,” The New York Times reported in June.
“Asian-Americans are described as smart and hardworking yet uninteresting and indistinguishable from other Asian-American applicants,” SFFA said, The WSJ reported.
The characteristic rating is determined using recommendations, interviews with Harvard alumni and students essays, according to The WSJ.
“Students’ intellectual imagination, strength of character, and their ability to exercise good judgment — these are critical factors in the admissions process, and they are revealed not by test scores but by students’ activities outside the classroom, the testimony of teachers and guidance counselors, and by alumni/ae and staff interview reports,” Fitzsimmons wrote in The New York Times in 2009.
Over 15,000 Harvard alumni help with student recruitment, the school’s website said.
A 1990 Department of Education Office of Civil Rights report that found Asian-American applicants’ personality ratings were lower than white applicants was referenced during the trial, according to The WSJ. The report found that Harvard’s admission officers included racial stereotypes in their comments on applications.
Fitzsimmons said race was not used in an isolated manner from other factors in admissions but “made a difference” for some applicants’ admissions, The WSJ reported.
The trial is said to last three weeks and is being held in a Boston federal court before U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs.
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