Federal Judge Allison D. Burroughs issued a ruling on Oct. 1, 2019 that could be called an all-encompassing appraisal of Harvard’s race-conscious admissions.
The court findings, detailed in Burroughs’ 130-page monograph, nullified all evidence presented by the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA). In an eerie resemblance to the moral verbiage and political undertones used by Harvard’s defense team, the Burroughs report buried vestiges of prejudices and presumptions underneath a thick layer of legal jargons. These mistruths have the power to perpetuate the “righteous” thinking of the American cultural bourgeoise while further stifling public opinions.
Decorated by swift citations of previous Supreme Court rulings, Burroughs’ report is crippled by an unbalanced treatment of pertinent evidence in the present case by taking Harvard’s various arguments at face value while over-scrutinizing SFFA’s findings. Throughout the decision document, false comparisons between Asian American and white students are drawn to confuse the major point argued in court, whether Asian students have been unfairly treated in relation to all other racial groups. This white-Asian dichotomy is a smokescreen to mask the fact that huge statistical discrepancies exist in admissions data between Asian American applicants and of other groups.
The court finding accuses Professor Peter Arcidiacono’s econometrics model of “considerable omitted variable biases” in the same exact ways that the Harvard Professor Professor David Card adopted in the pre-trial period. In determining whether a negative Asian identity is statistically significant, Burroughs chose to prefer Card’s modeling based on each individual admissions cycle, dismissing Arcidiacono’s rebuttal to Card’s criticisms last June. She even took a further step to dismantle Harvard’s 2013 reports (the Hansen model, for instance) by its Office of Institutional Research for the same excuse. Such a broadband charge on scientific rigor and research credibility in the plaintiff’s evidence pool can only be sustained if the court’s preferred models and the judge’s own analysis are somehow exempt from falsifiability as natural outcomes of any serious scientific inquiry.
Nonetheless, with logical inconsistencies and biases, the Burroughs ruling is built on sand castles. The judge’s staunch support of Harvard’s diversity efforts is self-defeating at best: while acknowledging that the school has since the 1970s “recruited minority students … through its Undergraduate Minority Recruitment Program,” the report then concedes that “(d)espite these efforts, African American and Hispanic applicants remain a relatively modest portion of Harvard’s applicant pool.” To discredit various race-neutral alternatives, the report argues that none of the alternatives is alone sufficient, disregarding proposals to combine various measures.
Contravening the judge’s acquittal of racial balancing, the Burroughs text describes at length how the school uses tools such as “lop process” and “one-pagers” to ensure “a racially diverse entering class,” so that “if at some point in the admissions process it appears that a group is notably underrepresented or has suffered a dramatic drop off relative to the prior year, the Admissions Committee may decide to give additional attention to applications from students within that group.” Specifically, “Harvard uses the racial makeup of admitted students to help determine how many students it should admit overall to avoid overfilling or underfilling its class.” The irony here is obvious.
To attack SFFA’s claim of “higher standards against Asian Americans,” Burroughs minimizes the “sparse country search list” as “fundamentally a marketing tool that does not affect individual admissions decisions.” Based on analysis of the search list, Harvard would send invitation letters to apply to white students with PSAT score of 1310, black or Hispanic students with a score of 1100 but not Asian males with a score of 1370 or higher in the same geographic area. Discrimination is discrimination is discrimination, regardless of the level of quantitative significance which is subject to interpretation.
To add insult to injury, Burroughs argues that “SFFA did not present a single Asian American applicant who was overtly discriminated against or who was better qualified than an admitted white applicant when considering the full range of factors that Harvard values in its admissions process.” This blanket statement is both statistically improbable (comparing a group of rejected Asian students with a selected pool of white matriculants on a range of unidentified factors) and argumentatively misleading (insinuating that SFFA’s student victims are less desirable).
The ruling affirms Harvard’s anti-Asian discrimination
Sanctifying the social contract of racial diversity as the ethical basis for Harvard’s practices, Judge Allison Dale Burroughs misplaced the school’s notorious treatment of Asian American applicants in a context of moral relativity. She wrote, “Race conscious admissions will always penalize to some extent the groups that are not being advantaged by the process.” This ambiguous statement is then followed by inconsistencies throughout the text.
To boast Harvard’s application of “strict scrutiny,” the court finding reinstates the benefits of student body diversity in higher education repeatedly and then abruptly attributes this “compelling government goal” to Harvard’s use of “racial classification” as a narrowly tailored method. The causation is extremely weak, confusing generic quotes as concrete evidence.
In an attempt to explain away lower personal ratings among Asian American students, Burroughs reasons that “the self-selected group of Asian Americans that applied to Harvard…did not possess the personal qualities that Harvard is looking for at the same rate was white applicants” and that such “slight numerical disparity … can be at least partially explained by a variety of factors including… teacher and guidance counselor recommendations.” This finding that such inconsequential factors command deterministic power over low personal ratings is incongruent with the complex design of Harvard’s holistic admissions, which is heavily advertised and paraded in the report and by Harvard.
A particular toxic point is Burroughs’ incessant taunts of SFFA’s “no student plaintiff problem” before confirming SFFA’s legal standing at the end of her ruling. Since the SFFA had successfully sought the injunctive relief of not presenting its individual members in court, intentionally disparaging the plaintiff for not showcasing student victims is pointless.
In the current environment of political correctness and group thinking, students who dare to speak up against these fashionable tides would inevitably face ostracizing from peers and the public opinion. In light of sufficient statistical evidence, the SFFA’s decision to protect the identity and confidentiality of its student members is legitimate.
Asian American communities nationwide have long pressed for investigations into Harvard’s discrimination. As early as 2013, many Asian Americans have fought against Harvard for unfairly treating its Asian applicants. My organization, the Asian American Coalition for Education, for example, represented 64 Asian American organizations in a civil rights complaint against Harvard in May 2015 and supported an Asian American father’s individual complaint against the same school in September 2015. We expanded our alliance to include 269 Asian American organizations in January 2019 in an updated amicus brief protesting Harvard.
All in all, the Burroughs ruling is crafted on cherry-picking evidence and a stubborn confirmation bias to validate her presumption of Harvard’s innocence. It only reflects the judge’s rigid view on campus diversity and an unfortunate failure to look beyond her own preconceived notions of political correctness. As such, I have profound feelings of respect for her high ideals and pity for her politicized commitment to misinterpreting the other side.
In this prolonged David-and-Goliath fight, an encouraging truth emerges amidst the pro-Harvard ruling: if one takes a long-term and rational perspective on the Harvard case, the singular fact that many Asian American grassroot organizations nationwide have united in this pursuit of holding Harvard accountable for discriminatory admissions still stands strong.
As a disheartening roadblock, Burroughs’s ruling is a powerful nod to race-based affirmative action. But it is not a decisive critical juncture. Politics shift, cultures change, and our discourse on relevant matters is constantly evolving. Considering recent developments that Harvard issued guidelines last July tackling implicit bias or racial stereotypes against Asian Americans and the school has admitted more qualified Asian American applicants in the last two years, our fight for equal education rights continues in an upward trajectory.
Wenyuan Wu holds a Ph.D. in international studies and is the director of administration for the Asian American Coalition for Education, a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting equal rights for Asian Americans in education.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.