Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Monday, October 15, 2018

Harvard Admissions on Trial

Now that the Harvard Asian American discrimination trial has started, let me share some previous correspondence with NYTimes reporters who are covering the proceedings.
... it's far too easy for the press to just report it as "Harvard's statistician disagrees with plaintiff's statistician" when in fact there are specific and important claims (e.g., regarding unhooked applicants) that are unanswered by Harvard.

Claim: when unhooked applicants are considered, Asians are discriminated against relative to all other groups.

Unhooked applicants are 95% of the total pool, but only ~2/3 of those admitted (see below). [ Unhooked = ordinary applicant = non-legacy, non-recruited athlete, etc. ]


From the SFFA brief:

"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.

[ Card and Arcidiacono have exchanged criticisms of the other's analysis already, so Card's lack of response on this specific point is worthy of attention. ]
Will Harvard contest the claim that within the set of unhooked applicants, Asian Americans are discriminated against? As far as I know they have not.
The question about how unhooked applicants are treated has been discussed in college admissions circles for some time. See this from 2006:


Inside Higher Ed covers a panel called “Too Asian?” at the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Particularly telling are the comments of a former Stanford admissions officer about an internal study which found evidence of higher admission rates for white applicants over Asians of similar academic and leadership qualifications (all applicants in the study were "unhooked" - meaning not in any favored categories such as legacies or athletes). 
[ So it is strange for Card / Harvard to claim that this specific question is not worth investigating! ]
Thanks to the lawsuit the results of a Harvard internal study in 2013 have been revealed, which concluded, like the Stanford study, that there was indeed discrimination against Asian American applicants. This will undoubtedly be discussed at trial.

The Content of their Character: Ed Blum and Jian Li
Jian Li: "I have a message to every single Asian-American student in the country who is applying to college: your civil rights are being violated and you must speak up in defense of them. If you've suffered discrimination you have the option to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights. Let your voice be heard .. not only through formal means but also by simply letting it be known in your schools and your communities, in the press and on social media, that university discrimination is pervasive and that this does not sit well with you. Together we will fight to ensure that universities can no longer treat us as second-class citizens."

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