Decry Harvard’s admission subjectivity

Admission to college should not be based on subjective ratings. Harvard needs to adjust its policies.

A judge in a United States District Court recently heard the final arguments in Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. Harvard College, a case many believe is destined for the Supreme Court. 

The suit argues Asian-American students are victims of Harvard’s allegedly unfair admissions practices. It claims Asians are given lower “personal ratings” based on intangible character traits, in order to counterbalance a surplus of Asian students. 

Harvard evaluates academic achievement, extracurricular activities, strength of character and “personal” and “overall” ratings. These ratings are based on a scale of one to six, with positive or negative attachments, like 2+ or 3-. A negative rating deters prospective students from admission. 

But valuing strength of character ratings so highly is extremely subjective. If a community of Asian-Americans complain about perceived bias, Harvard can simply say applicants fell short on character and personality.

Duke University economist Peter Arcidiacono studied six years of Harvard admissions data and found Asian-American males with a 25 percent chance of getting in would have a 35 percent chance if they were white and dramatically higher odds if they were Black or Latinx.

Two-thirds of Black and roughly half of Hispanic Harvard students were admitted as result of racial preferences, Arcidiacono testified to the federal circuit court in Boston.

Harvard combats this argument by claiming it looks for “holistic” criteria when evaluating prospective students. 

College admission, Ivy League or not, is a huge milestone for someone who has worked extremely hard to get there, especially for minorities. Let’s not make it more difficult.

“If, in fact, the research shows that a white student, a white applicant, with the same exact record as an Asian applicant stands a better chance of getting in, there’s a problem with that system,” said Barbara Ferman, a Temple University political science professor.

As a student, I’m concerned. Harvard is one of the top universities in the world. Establishing an equitable system here can set the tone for other schools.

Harvard has a right to embrace racial diversity as part of its mission. But the prestigious university must be careful to not emphasize such goals at the expense of a fair admissions process. 

At Temple, the Office of Equal Opportunity Compliance ensures institution-wide equal access and affirmative action. But imagine how different our student body would be if it exchanged these policies for personality ratings.

“In public universities where the state legislators said you can’t take race into account, we’ve seen that…the percentage of Asian-Americans goes up a lot,” said David Nickerson, a political science professor. “It really depends on what the mission of the university is. You have to think about the competing goals. It’s not obvious.”

Harvard needs to address the partiality of its admissions process, said Baki Kahloan, a senior finance major who is Asian-American.

“You don’t really know what they want from you,” Kahloan said. “Transparency is definitely the key and…informing people what they truly expect.”

Transparency should be an expectation and a right for any student in the college admissions process. Harvard must do this and implement a clearer standard to ensure a selection process free from this false racial balancing.

And I hope other universities know better than to adopt admissions practices like those at Harvard.

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