Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Harvard Office of Institutional Research on Discrimination Against Asian-American Applicants

Harvard's Office of Institutional Research (OIR) produced a series of internal reports on discrimination against Asian-American applicants, beginning in 2013. I believe this was in response to Ron Unz's late 2012 article The Myth of American Meritocracy. These reports were shared with, among others, William Fitzsimmons (Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid) and Rakesh Khurana (Dean of Harvard College). Faced with an internal investigation showing systemic discrimination against Asian-American applicants, Harvard killed the study and quietly buried the reports. The Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA) supporting memo for Summary Judgment contains excerpts from depositions of these and other Harvard leaders concerning the internal reports. (Starting p.15 -- SAD!)

The second report included the figure below. Differences are in SDs, Asian = Asian-American (International applicants are distinct category), and Legacy and Recruited Athlete candidates have been excluded for this calculation.

As discussed in the previous post: When it comes to the score assigned by the Admissions Office, Asian-American applicants are assigned the lowest scores of any racial group. ... By contrast, alumni interviewers (who actually meet the applicants) rate Asian-Americans, on average, at the top with respect to personal ratings—comparable to white applicants ...

From the SFFA (Students For Fair Admissions) supporting memo for summary judgement:
OIR found that Asian-American admit rates were lower than white admit rates every year over a ten-year period even though, as the first of these two charts shows, white applicants materially outperformed Asian-American applicants only in the personal rating. Indeed, OIR found that the white applicants were admitted at a higher rate than their Asian-American counterparts at every level of academic-index level. But it is even worse than that. As the second chart shows, being Asian American actually decreases the chances of admissions. Like Professor Arcidiacono, OIR found that preferences for African American and Hispanic applicants could not explain the disproportionately negative effect Harvard’s admission system has on Asian Americans.
On David Card's obfuscatory analysis: the claim is that within the pool of "unhooked" applicants (excluding recruited athletes, legacies, children of major donors, etc.), Asian-Americans are discriminated against. Card's analysis obscures this point.
The task here is to determine whether “similarly situated” applicants have been treated differently on the basis of race; “apples should be compared to apples.” SBT Holdings, LLC v. Town of Westminster, 547 F.3d 28, 34 (1st Cir. 2008). Because certain applicants are in a special category, it is important to analyze the effect of race without them included. Excluding them allows for the effect of race to be tested on the bulk of the applicant pool (more than 95% of applicants and more than two-thirds of admitted students) that do not fall into one of these categories, i.e., the similarly situated applicants. For special-category applicants, race either does not play a meaningful role in their chances of admission or the discrimination is offset by the “significant advantage” they receive. Either way, they are not apples.

Professor Card’s inclusion of these applicants reflects his position that “there is no penalty against Asian-American applicants unless Harvard imposes a penalty on every Asian-American applicant.” But he is not a lawyer and he is wrong. It is illegal to discriminate against any Asian-American applicant or subset of applicants on the basis of race. Professor Card cannot escape that reality by trying to dilute the dataset. The claim here is not that Harvard, for example, “penalizes recruited athletes who are Asian-American because of their race.” The claim “is that the effects of Harvard’s use of race occur outside these special categories.” Professor Arcidiacono thus correctly excluded special-category applicants to isolate and highlight Harvard’s discrimination against Asian Americans. Professor Card, by contrast, includes “special recruiting categories in his models” to “obscure the extent to which race is affecting admissions decisions for those not fortunate enough to belong to one of these groups.” At bottom, SFFA’s claim is that Harvard penalizes Asian-American applicants who are not legacies or recruited athletes. Professor Card has shown that he is unwilling and unable to contest that claim.
This is an email from an alumni interviewer:
[M]y feelings towards Harvard have been slowly changing over the years. I’ve been interviewing for the college for almost 10 years now, and in those ten years, none of the Asian American students I’ve interviewed has been accepted (or even wait-listed). I’m 0 for about 20. This is the case despite the fact that their resumes are unbelievable and often superior to those of the non-Asian students I’ve interviewed who are admitted. I’ve also attended interviewer meetings where Asian candidates are summarily dismissed as “typical” or “not doing anything anyone else isn’t doing” while white or other minority candidates with similar resumes are lauded.
From p.18 of the SFFA memo:
Mark Hansen, the (now former) OIR employee, remembers far more. He remembers working with others in OIR on the project. He remembers gathering data, conducting the regression analysis, collaborating with colleagues, coordinating with the Admissions Office, and discussing the results of OIR’s investigation with Fitzsimmons and others on multiple occasions.  Hansen expressed no concerns with the quality and thoroughness of OIR’s statistical work. Moreover, he has a clear understanding of the implications of OIR’s findings. Hansen testified that the reports show that Asian Americans “are disadvantaged in the admissions process at Harvard.” And when asked: “Do you have any explanation other than intentional discrimination for your conclusions regarding the negative association between Asians and the Harvard admissions process?” Hansen responded: “I don’t.”
A very sad tweet:

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