Letter to the Community: Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow

October 1, 2019

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

This afternoon, US District Judge Allison Burroughs handed down her decision in a lawsuit that alleged discrimination in Harvard College’s admissions policy. Judge Burroughs has found in Harvard's favor. You may read the decision in full on the Harvard Admissions Lawsuit website, which will be updated with analysis and commentary in the coming days.Harvard College’s admissions process aims to evaluate each individual as a whole person. The consideration of race, alongside many other factors, helps us achieve our goal of creating a diverse student body that enriches the education of every student. Everyone admitted to Harvard College has something unique to offer our community, and today we reaffirm the importance of diversity—and everything it represents to the world.

The admissions case provided members of our community the opportunity to reflect on their own experiences. Students, faculty, and staff, as well as alumni and friends, shared with me their thoughts on the value of bringing extraordinary people from varied backgrounds together, and I learned a great deal about the many reasons our students and alumni love this institution and the relationships it enables. In particular, I applaud the Harvard students who made their voices heard in this case and during the trial. They made vividly clear the benefits of student body diversity.

I also saw firsthand the intense commitment of many, including all those who testified, and who defended and supported the University, with tremendous acumen and skill, and I am deeply grateful for their excellent work.

Let me close by quoting directly from the final paragraph of Judge Burroughs’s decision:

“For purposes of this case, at least for now, ensuring diversity at Harvard relies, in part, on race conscious admissions. Harvard’s admission program passes constitutional muster in that it satisfies the dictates of strict scrutiny. The students who are admitted to Harvard and choose to attend will live and learn surrounded by all sorts of people, with all sorts of experiences, beliefs and talents. They will have the opportunity to know and understand one another beyond race, as whole individuals with unique histories and experiences. It is this, at Harvard and elsewhere that will move us, one day, to the point where we see that race is a fact, but not the defining fact and not the fact that tells us what is important, but we are not there yet. Until we are, race conscious admissions programs that survive strict scrutiny will have an important place in society and help ensure that colleges and universities can offer a diverse atmosphere that fosters learning, improves scholarship, and encourages mutual respect and understanding.”

Diversity of all kinds creates remarkable opportunities and complex challenges. If we hope to make the world better, we must both pursue those opportunities and confront those challenges, motivated always by humility, generosity, and openness. The power of American higher education stems from a devotion to learning from our differences. Affirming that promise will make our colleges, and our society, stronger still.

All the best,

Lawrence S. Bacow
President

See also: Statement