Harvard College’s Affirmative Action Admissions Plan Upheld in Recent Decision: Key Takeaways for Colleges & Universities

November 4, 2019
Firm Publication

On September 30, 2019, the District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued its long-awaited opinion in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, upholding the race-conscious admissions program used by Harvard College against a challenge brought by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) which alleged that Asian American students were discriminated against by Harvard on account of their race.

Central to the court’s decision, and therefore, among the most important takeaways from this opinion are:

  • The depth and breadth of evidence Harvard was able to marshal to support its race-conscious admissions program.
  • The consistent testimony Harvard put forward from its admissions officers and others evidencing a lack of intentional discrimination based on race in the admissions process.
  • SFFA’s failure to present a single Asian American applicant who alleged actual harm from Harvard’s admissions program.
  • Expert statistical analysis, while important, was insufficient by itself, to show an over-reliance on race by Harvard.

Colleges and universities that employ race-conscious admissions programs should pay close attention to the evidence garnered by Harvard in supporting its program and consider whether they would be in a position to put forward similar evidence should their own admissions programs be challenged. In combination with the ongoing Varsity Blues investigation, all colleges and universities should consider a review of their admissions programs to ensure that all “preferences” or special considerations for particular groups of applicants are well thought out and defensible based on the institution’s particular mission, and that personnel responsible for admissions are well trained.

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