Witness Suggests Alternative to Harvard Admissions

BOSTON (CN) – An expert witness for the anti-affirmative action group suing Harvard University over the use of race in its admissions process argued on the stand Monday that a socioeconomic emphasis would improve that process.

Richard Kahlenberg, who is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, took the stand on the sixth day of trial in the Students for Fair Admissions’ federal lawsuit challenging Harvard’s admissions standards.

In this March 7, 2017 file photo, rowers paddle down the Charles River past the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

Kahlenberg, who was testifying on behalf of SFFA, argued that there was a greater need to adjust Harvard’s admissions based on socioeconomic factors, rather than race.

“[Harvard enrolls] 23 times as many rich kids as poor kids,” he said. “Harvard is literally the richest university in the entire country. Its $37 billion endowment is the biggest than the gross domestic product of half of the world’s countries.”

Kahlenberg presented several admissions simulations that showed if Harvard removed race as a factor in favor of economic status, than there would be a small increase in the percentage of Asian-American students. There would also be a small increase in Hispanic students, with decreases occurring among white and black students.

Under cross-examination from Harvard attorney Bill Lee, Kahlenberg acknowledged that he was paid to consult with SFFA over their original complaint.

Lee’s line of questioning also focused on Kahlenberg’s experience as a university administrator.

Although Kahlenberg was unable to say that he had the experience of running his own admissions program, he did say that he used Harvard’s admissions goals when weighing his admission scheme scenarios.

“I reference Harvard’s goals when proposing my own,” he said.

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.

According to U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs, the bench trial is expected to last through the end of next week.

In opening statements last week, 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, socioeconomic factors and geographic ones – for example, students from rural communities have a slight advantage over urban students.

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

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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