Harvard Officials Grilled in Affirmative Action Trial

BOSTON (CN) – On the fourth day of trial, attorneys for an anti-affirmative action group suing Harvard University over its admissions standards continued to interrogate administrators Thursday over the role race plays in getting into the Ivy League institution.

A tour group walks through the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., on Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons was the first witness that Students for Fair Admissions, abbreviated as SFFA, called in their case against Harvard, which claims that the school’s use of race as a factor in the admissions process unfairly cuts down on the number of Asian-American students that are accepted.

Fitzsimmons testified that although race does get considered, it only plays a minor role and only if it is a positive one. He said race was never used to directly eliminate an applicant.

Senior admissions officer Chris Looby, who took the stand after Fitzsimmons, said that if race is ever considered on applications it was more likely that it ends up being a “tip that pushes him or her into the admitted applicant pool.”

Fitzsimmons was also serving as dean of admissions back in 1990 when the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights cleared Harvard of having a biased admissions process. The two-year review found that although Asian-American applicants were accepted at lower rates than white students, the difference was not racially motivated, according to a New York Times report at the time.

Fitzsimmons noted during his testimony on Thursday that Harvard still uses the same admissions process that was cleared in 1990.

SFFA filed suit against Harvard in 2014, claiming that the use of race in its admissions process unfairly prevented more students of Asian descent from being accepted.

In opening statements on Monday, SFFA’s attorney Adam Mortara argued that if admissions were based solely on academic success, then twice as many Asian-American students would be accepted.

Harvard’s attorneys have claimed that although race is a consideration, it is a minor one among many in a larger, comprehensive process that weighs academics, socio-economic factors and geographic ones – for example, students from rural communities have a slight advantage over urban students.

Responding to a direct question from U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs on Thursday, attorneys for SFFA said they would not be submitting any rejected applications from students the organization represents.

SFFA still has several current and former Harvard administrators that it plans to call to the witness stand as the trial progresses.

Judge Burroughs said proceedings could last as long as three weeks.

The Justice Department filed a statement of interest in the case in August, urging the judge to side with the Asian-American students.

But the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed an amicus brief in support of Harvard, said at the time that the Trump administration was trying “to dismantle progress in racial equity” after reversing Obama-era guidance on affirmative action.

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