Key Researcher Testifies in Harvard Admissions Trial

BOSTON (CN) – The man whose study formed the basis for the discrimination lawsuit against Harvard’s admissions standards finally took the stand Thursday, nine days into the trial centered on affirmative action.

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

Duke University professor Peter Arcidiacono, who conducted a study of Harvard’s admissions data for plaintiff Students for Fair Admissions, was called to the witness stand by the organization in its anti-affirmative action case against the Ivy League school on behalf of Asian-American students that were unable to get in.

“I think the evidence is quite compelling that there is a penalty against Asian-American applicants,” Arcidiacono testified Thursday.

The professor compiled data from two decades of Harvard admissions and five years of applicants’ data to build a database that allowed him to see which factors have the strongest effect on who gets into the nation’s oldest college.

Based on his report, which was submitted to the court in June, Arcidiacono found that while Asian-American students outperform all other students academically, on average, they suffer a statistical penalty compared to white students.

In his report, Arcidiacono gives the example of a random Asian-American student who has a 25 percent chance of getting into the school based on race and other factors would see an increase to 36 percent if only their race were changed to white.

The hypothetical student’s chances would jump to 77 percent if he or she was Hispanic and 95 percent if they were black, assuming that all other factors were the same, according to the professor.

One potential flaw in Arcidiacono’s study is that it excluded admitted students that were athletes, legacies, on the dean’s list of special applicants, or were children of Harvard employees.

“If you’re discriminating against a group, wouldn’t you expect them to be discriminated against across the board?” asked U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs.

Arcidiacono said that the number of accepted applicants from the four special categories was too small to represent a significant data set.

Under cross-examination, Harvard attorney Bill Lee pointed out that based on Arcidiacono’s model, if Harvard kept their admissions process race-neutral then fewer Hispanic and black students would get in, while Asian-American and white students would see an increase in acceptance.

Lee also argued that the university used so many different factors to tip the scale toward accepted that it does not make sense to isolate race when analyzing admissions data.

“If someone gets a tip for geography because they are from Wyoming does that mean Harvard has discriminated against someone from Massachusetts or Alabama?” asked Lee.

Students for Fair Admissions is expected to rest its case on Friday, with amicus parties and Harvard taking turns next week.

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