‘Race-neutral alternatives’ are not sufficient.
The judge accepted Harvard’s argument that it had adequately studied and exhausted race-neutral ways to maintain diversity on campus.
Some race-neutral alternatives, like admitting only students at the top of their classes, were simply unworkable, the judge said. To admit every applicant with a perfect grade-point average, Harvard would need to expand its class size by approximately 400 percent and then reject every applicant with an imperfect grade point average without regard to other factors, including extracurricular activities and life experiences.
The plaintiff had put forth other ideas, including considering socioeconomic background instead of race and eliminating strong admissions preferences for so-called A.L.D.C. students — athletes, legacies (or children of alumni), those on the dean’s and director’s interest lists, and the children of faculty or staff.
The judge was skeptical that a socioeconomic approach would be truly race-neutral.
On A.L.D.C. students, the judge was somewhat deferential. Removing these preferences “would improve socioeconomic diversity,” she wrote, but have limited impact on racial diversity and come at a steep cost to the university’s athletics, donor relations and student life. Reasonable minds could differ on the importance of these things, she said, but the court “takes no position on these issues other than to note that these are topics best left to schools to figure out for themselves.”
The admissions process at Harvard remains flawed.
While the judge found there was no intentional discrimination, the admissions process could likely be improved, she wrote.
Judge Burroughs made note of implicit bias a number of times in her decision, saying that it was conceivable that the unintentional biases of admissions officers — and the guidance counselors and teachers who write recommendations — could explain some of the statistical disparities between Asian-American students and other races.
But the likely effects of unintentional bias, while regrettable, were very slight, the judge said, and could not be totally eliminated in a process that requires judgments about individuals.