Harvard Challenges Admissions Attack, Argues Opponent's Request for Summary Judgement Presents "Misleading Narrative"

July 27, 2018

The brief filed by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) seeking summary judgment “is not a serious effort,” but a "45-page press release devoted to presenting a misleading narrative,” lawyers for Harvard College write in a brief filed today (7/27) opposing the SFFA request for summary judgment in the case. Harvard specifically challenges the work of SFFA’s expert on the case, Dr. Peter Arcidiacono, repeatedly pointing out flaws in his conclusions. “Aside from Dr. Arcidiacono’s deeply flawed statistical analysis, SFFA has nothing,” the Harvard brief concludes.

“Dr. Arcidiacono’s analysis is fundamentally unreliable. Dr. Arcidiacono was able to arrive at his conclusions only by excluding important information and treating the remaining data in a manner seemingly calculated to reach the result SFFA desired,” the brief continues.

Both sides in the case filed briefs requesting that the court enter summary judgment in the case in lieu of a trial now set to begin October 15th.

The Harvard brief directly challenges SFFA’s arguments for summary judgment as “not remotely plausible.” The brief continues that each of SFFA’s arguments “rests on allegations that have been conclusively refuted or, at a minimum, directly contested by documentary, testimonial, and expert evidence.”

While Harvard’s brief in support of its request for summary judgment demonstrates why SFFA’s claims are so unfounded that a trial is unnecessary, Harvard also makes clear that it “welcomes its opportunity to expose at trial the many fallacies of the narrative SFFA has offered.”

SFFA is an organization that exists to eliminate the consideration of race in college admissions, in this case challenging the admissions policies of Harvard College. SFFA’s founders have failed in earlier legal battles, most recently, against the University of Texas in a case decided by the Supreme Court in 2016.

Harvard today also is filing a separate statement refuting SFFA’s “900 paragraphs of supposedly undisputed facts—many of which are neither undisputed nor even facts” that “confirm that SFFA’s summary judgment filing is not a serious effort to persuade the Court that this case can be resolved in SFFA’s favor without a trial but rather an opportunity to present a fundamentally misleading account of the record to the public. Unable to find any actual documentary or testimonial support for the purported scheme of intentional discrimination...SFFA instead relies on distortions of the record and misleading characterizations of data analysis.”

Today’s brief in opposition to SFFA’s motion for summary judgment directly challenges key SFFA claims about Harvard’s admissions policies and presents specific arguments based on the evidence, concluding:

The evidence fails to show Harvard intentionally discriminates against Asian-American applicants. From the brief: “SFFA cannot point to any testimonial or documentary evidence to support its claim, and so it is forced to rely on statistical evidence…. disputed in every relevant respect by the far more comprehensive and statistically sound analysis submitted by Harvard’s expert.” The SFFA data, “even taken at face value [are] insufficient to support SFFA’s claim.” In fact, as Harvard showed in its summary judgment brief, a fair and comprehensive statistical analysis found no evidence that Asian-Americans were disadvantaged in Harvard’s admissions process.

The evidence presented by SFFA fails to show that Harvard engages in racial balancing. From the brief: “It is surprising that SFFA even presses this argument, for admissions data show that the racial composition of the class admitted to Harvard fluctuates significantly from year to year.”

The evidence fails to show that Harvard considers race in anything but the manner permitted by law and the Supreme Court. From the brief: “…the Supreme Court has held that universities may consider race in the admissions process to “obtain[] ‘the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity.’” Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (Fisher II), 136 S. Ct. 2198, 2210 (2016). The evidence leaves no doubt that Harvard permissibly seeks those educational benefits in the flexible, non-mechanical, manner permitted by the Supreme Court.”

The evidence fails to show that Harvard could achieve its educational objectives without considering race. From the brief: “Harvard’s conclusions—that race-neutral alternatives would not allow it to achieve the educational benefits of diversity that are required to meet its pedagogical goals—are straightforward and unassailable.”

Harvard responses to SFFA’s claims:

Office of Institutional Research (OIR): SFFA mischaracterizes the work of OIR with false claims. From the brief: “OIR was not conducting an ‘internal investigation’ of anything…OIR employees performed their analysis on their own, not together with employees of the Admissions Office, and acknowledged that they did not know enough about the admissions process to render reliable conclusions."

Findings on Asian-American applicants who are female or from California: Dr. Card’s independent, expert analysis found no statistically significant evidence that Asian Americans are disadvantaged in Harvard’s admissions process, either in any particular year or on average across the six years for which data were produced. In addition, Dr. Card found that for Asian-American applicants who are female or apply from California—categories that together include most of Harvard’s Asian-American applicants—there is a positive association between Asian-American ethnicity and the likelihood of admission in most years. From the brief: “SFFA does not and cannot explain why, if Harvard truly intended to discriminate against Asian-American applicants on the basis of their race, the supposed discrimination would affect only a subset of Asian-American applicants.” SFFA “…tries to make its case based on a conveniently selected subset of the population, without any explanation for why the supposed discrimination would manifest itself in such a strange way.”

Race-Neutral Alternatives: “Harvard has for decades engaged in a variety of race-neutral efforts—including several that SFFA’s own expert suggests—to achieve a class that is diverse along many dimensions, including race…Harvard devotes significant resources to recruitment and outreach, seeking to encourage candidates from a variety of backgrounds to apply to Harvard and matriculate if admitted. Harvard has long been a national leader in financial aid, offering one of the most generous need-based financial aid policies of any university.”

Memorandum in Opposition to SFFA's Motion for Summary Judgment 

See also: Statement