DFI Argues in SCOTUS Brief that Harvard’s Dirty Admissions Practices—Including its Personality Penalty for Asian-American Applicants—Discredit Its Stated Desire to Promote Diversity

May 9, 2022

WASHINGTON—The Defense of Freedom Institute for Policy Studies (DFI) has joined the fight to end discriminatory, race-based admissions practices at colleges and universities.  In an amicus brief filed at the U.S. Supreme Court today in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, DFI argues that Harvard’s admission process belies its claim that it engages in a “holistic review” of applicants focused on their individual merits (a requirement under the case law that permits institutions of higher education to consider race in admissions).

DFI’s brief explains how Harvard’s use of “Athlete, Legacy, Dean’s Interest List, and Children of Faculty” (ALDC) preferences in its admissions process favors the children of the wealthy, the politically well-connected, and celebrities, as well as children of faculty and staff, without regard to the qualities and strengths of each individual applicant. Evidence brought forward by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) in the case clearly shows that the license allowed postsecondary institutions to consider race in promoting “diversity” is suspect here because of the continued use of the ALDC preferences. Many students are admitted at Harvard each year based largely on whether their parents went to the university or—more importantly—how much money their family may be expected to contribute to the endowment. DFI’s brief shows how this has resulted in less diversity among Harvard classes. Harvard’s eagerness to eschew holistic admissions when it suits certain goals casts great doubt on its claim that its system of racial preferences treats applicants holistically when taking account of race.

“Harvard’s use of a dirty admissions process in pursuit of institutional privileges should cast doubt on its claim that its use of race in admissions passes legal muster,” said DFI President Robert S. Eitel.  “The record shows that Harvard eagerly grants admissions based on the wealth, political clout, connections, or celebrity status of an applicant’s parents rather than through a truly holistic admissions process that examines the individual merits of each applicant. If Harvard wanted to achieve true diversity, it could do so without resorting to discrimination by eliminating its ALDC preferences.”

John C. Sullivan serves as counsel on DFI’s brief, which you can read here.

Additional Background

Pursuant to Grutter v. Bollinger, institutions of higher education may use race as a “plus factor” in determining whether a student should be admitted. Although race may not be the sole factor, the decision allows higher education institutions to consider race as long as the institution takes into consideration other “individualized” factors as part of a “holistic” review of a student’s application.

As SFFA has demonstrated in this case, as part of Harvard’s allegedly holistic review of a student while evaluating applications, Harvard assigns scores in four “profile” ratings—academic, extracurricular, athletic, and personal—plus an “overall” rating. The academic, extracurricular, and athletic ratings are largely objective measures of performance that are based on detailed scoring instructions. In contrast, the personal rating is largely subjective and supposedly measures qualities such as “leadership,” “self-confidence,” “likeability,” and “kindness.”

Evidence obtained by SFFA shows that Asian-American students on average receive higher academic scores, higher extracurricular scores, and higher alumni-interview scores, yet Harvard admits Asian-American applicants at similar or lower rates than whites. This is because Asian-Americans receive the lowest personal ratings from among all races, and these low personal ratings penalize Asian-American applicants in admissions outcomes.

DFI strongly supports the right of students, faculty, and employees to learn and work free from race discrimination in their schools, colleges, universities, and workplaces. To learn more about our efforts to protect constitutional and civil rights, please visit DFIPolicy.org/issues.