SFFA Case Shows Harvard Behind the Scenes

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

No matter how the judge rules in the lawsuit brought by Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard, the case is already a public relations nightmare for the university — on its own campus.

The Harvard Crimson, the university’s legendary student newspaper, has been on the scene at the trial and behind the scenes on campus covering the controversy. As we’ve noted in previous stories, The Crimson rarely deviates from administration narratives.

Therefore, its exposure of one of them is rather remarkable. The Crimson obtained an internal e-mail sent by the dean of admissions. “In case you haven’t been closely following along, I want to take this opportunity to remind you of some key points of Harvard’s narrative,” William R. Fitzsimmons ’67, wrote in a Saturday morning email to alumni. “Harvard does not discriminate against Asian Americans or any race or ethnic group and does not use quotas of any kind in the admissions process.”

In the Harvard tradition, perhaps more so than with any other university, alumni actively seek out prospective students. Some of the recipients of the Fitzsimmons e-mail interviewed by Crimson reporter Shera S. Avi-Yonah, in a story which appeared on October 14, 2018,were not that impressed:

~SFFA supporter Lee C. Cheng ’93, a lawyer for the Asian American Legal Foundation who claimed he has interviewed Harvard applicants for 25 years, said, “Wouldn’t you say ‘The truth’ or ‘This is the unassailable and only truth’ if you really believed it?” he said.

~Kevin A. Hazlett, ’16, said, “There have been very well-publicized lawsuits against affirmative action in recent years, and to see them succeed would be very troubling, But, at the same time that the college is championing its diversity and financial aid policies, it’s propping up a system of legacy admissions that serves to have the opposite effect on the institution.” Avi-Yonah identifies Hazlett as a former Crimson editor and prospective alumni interviewer.

Indeed, as the Crimson noted in an earlier story, SFFA lawyer John Hughes grilled Fitzsimmons on the degree to which Harvard awards admissions to the relatives or proteges of donors: These were also follow-up questions to e-mails sent by the director of admissions.

As if Harvard wasn’t already having an identity crisis, a story co-written by Avi-Yonah and Molly C. McAfferty, which appeared on October 19, 2018, really made the university’s diversity defense look absurd. “Over a nearly two-decade period starting in 1995, Asian-American applicants to Harvard saw the lowest acceptance rate of any racial group that applied to the school, according to data presented in court Thursday as part of the Harvard admissions trial,” they wrote. “Data for that time period — which begins with the admissions cycle for applicants to Harvard’s Class of 2000 and ends with the cycle for the Class of 2017 — show that Asian-American candidates on average saw an admission rate of 8.1 percent.”
“By comparison, white applicants saw an average acceptance rate of 11.1 percent in that time period, African-American applicants saw an average acceptance rate of 13.2 percent, and Hispanic-American applicants saw an average acceptance rate of 10.6 percent.”