Most of us are aware of the ongoing trial regarding the alleged racial discrimination against Asian-Americans in the Harvard admissions process. It has become clear in the first couple of weeks of trial that getting into Harvard is not all about grades and scores on standardized tests. The admissions are done on the basis of scores in four categories – athletic ability, academic achievement, extracurricular activities, and personal qualities. Family connections, large fundings to the school, racial background, low income, and other factors all make a difference. Specifically, it is the category of personal qualities where a student’s ethnicity and racial background is considered. It has been found that Asian-American students score relatively low as compared to African-Americans, Latinos, and White. The case is by a group named Students for Fair Admissions who argue that Harvard disfavors high-achieving Asian-Americans and gives a boost to African-American, Hispanic and other white students in their admission process.
During the trial, Dean Fitzsimmons agreed to keep a dean’s list of children of big donors for admissions. He argues that these funds are necessary for scholarships and other purposes of the university. Dean also agreed that the university provides admissions to African-American and Latinos having test scores in the middle range as compared to White Americans and Asian-Americans who are required to relatively score higher in the tests. Fitzsimmons explains that this support is required as the blacks and Hispanics do not get an equal opportunity to prepare for standardized tests because of economic disadvantage. He also said that the chances of a son of a migrant worker getting admission is higher than a regular student from Boston because of the diversity and the life experience that the student brings to the table.
Answering to the allegations of discrimination against Asian-Americans, he admitted that they do score lower in the personality category but it is due to the letters of recommendation that they receive from the guidance counselors and teachers in high school. He feels that Asian-Americans generally do poorly in this category which represents likeability, leadership, and other personal traits. Dean provided facts that the Asian-Americans constitute about 22.7% of total students which is a great improvement as compared to just 5% in the 1980s. The 22.7% is still greater than 15% of African-Americans and 12% of Latinos.
I personally feel that the Harvard admission process might have some flaws(big donor admissions and some racial discrimination in the admissions) but dividing the overall admission process into 4 categories is good. It is not all about merit and good scores but about the different skill sets that make you stand out in the audience. A more balanced student in terms of studies, grades, outdoor activities, life experience, communication skills etc. should have a better chance of getting admission. I would happily accept rejection till the time anybody processing my application is not racially biased and goes through the admission process properly. This process is still more balanced and complete as compared to caste or religion based reservations in Indian universities. So, if the dean is to be believed regarding no discrimination against the Asian-Americans, I would partially support the Harvard Admissions Process at least for its somewhat balanced process. I would, however, question the advantages given to some students from a racial or religious background during the scoring of the admission process. This is something that needs to be looked at more carefully. Some of these people might not have money, resources, scholarships and opportunities for getting into an Ivy league but definitely not all. What do you think?