What We Learned From the Case Against Harvard

We have waited almost a year for Judge Allison D. Burroughs's decision on whether Harvard University discriminated against Asian Americans in its admissions process. When news broke on Tuesday that Burroughs found that Harvard's race based admissions process met the constitutional standards for affirmative action, it was anti-climatic for education observers.

The fact is that no matter what the decision was or how the appeal process will unfold, this case changed how applications are read and evaluated at every selective college that uses race and other subjective information in its decision-making process. We didn't need to wait for the judge's decision. Harvard and most colleges are trying to clean up some of their unsavory behaviors so that they don't get caught up in another federal lawsuit or even another admissions scandal.



Related Reading:
Five Things to Know About the Justice Department's Affirmative Action Investigation into Harvard



Here are the issues Harvard and other colleges are actively trying to address internally:

  • Training and oversight for admissions officers. These individuals have extraordinary power and influence over our kids' futures, yet few have been properly trained to delicately understand a student's race, religion, and background if it is not their own.  
  • Careful handling of applications from students who have long been held to a higher standard: Asian Americans, Indian Americans, and Jewish students. 
  • Increased sensitivity towards students with learning disabilities, psychological disorders, and other medical issues. There has been longstanding discrimination against these students and I suspect there are lawsuits in the works given how much bias has gone on for too long.  
  • Building a foolproof verification process to ensure authenticity of application materials. This is a result of the admissions scandal, Operation Varsity Blues.
READ MORE: After the Admissions Scandal: How Regular Students Can Stand Out
  • Higher standards for student athletes who are getting recruited—another consequence from the admissions scandal
  • Evaluating current admissions requirements to address the ongoing concern that the demands on students to reach unreasonably high standards is resulting in a mental health crisis among our youth. 
  • Determining the future leadership of these admissions offices as many of the deans of admission have been protected and permitted to do anything they want behind closed doors. 
Harvard and other elite colleges are not absolved of wrongdoing. Even Judge Burroughs advised Harvard to train its admissions officers better. I hope this case was enough of a warning to admissions offices across the country to clean up their acts. But I know the skeletons in their closets and I suspect more will come out in the coming weeks and months.

Read Sara's op-ed in the Los Angeles Times: Colleges need to start disclosing all their admissions data to the public