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Dean Rakesh Khurana Defends Wealthy Student Body During High Stakes Harvard Admissions Trial

At stake is whether Harvard discriminates against Asian applicants, placing caps on the number of Asians it will admit to ensure the elite school is not over run by high-scoring Asians.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   24-10-2018

Harvard Dean, Rakesh Khurana
Harvard Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana

On day six of the high-stakes anti-Asian bias case against Harvard University, a Harvard dean defended the school’s practice of admitting candidates from wealthy families.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana stepped to the witness stand this week in the high-profile Harvard admissions trial that could decide the fate of affirmative action in the United States. Adam K Mortara, the head lawyer for Students for Fair Admissions, the Asian group suing Harvard over its admissions process, cross-questioned the dean.

Mortara asked Khurana if he was cognizant that just 5% of US households drew an annual income of over $150,000. He then asked Khurana if he was aware that individuals in that high income bracket made up at least 30% of Harvard’s student body. According to The Crimson’s 2018 freshman survey, 17% of respondents reported an annual family income of over half a million dollars.

“Don’t you actually think that Harvard’s class should have a socioeconomic makeup that looks a lot more like America, provided the students were academically qualified to be at Harvard?” Mortara asked Khurana. “Your personal opinion, Sir?”

“I don’t,” Khurana replied.

“What is special about wealthy people that Harvard needs to have them overrepresented by a factor of six on its campus?” Mortara asked later.

In response, Khurana said Mortara was missing the point.

“We’re not trying to mirror the socioeconomic or income distribution of the United States,” Khurana said. “What we’re trying to do is identify talent and make it possible for them to come to a place like Harvard.”

The lawyer then showed Khurana a 2013 Harvard study that found being an Asian-American has a negative impact on your chances of gaining entry.

“You had never seen this?” the group’s lawyer, Adam Mortara, asked in a Boston federal court.

Khurana answered: “No.”

The study, projected on a courtroom screen, elicited a collective gasp of disbelief from a group of Asian scholars in the public gallery.

In 2013, Harvard’s own Office of Institutional Research conducted an internal investigation of race bias in its admissions process and produced reports suggesting that it was biased against Asians. The report flagged that Asians were admitted at lower rates than whites, even though Asian applicants were rated higher than white applicants in most of the categories used in the admissions process, including academics, extracurriculars, and test scores. One exception was the “personal rating.”

In the years after the report, Khurana chaired a committee to study student body diversity and was one of three deans on another charged with exploring the plaintiff’s discrimination claims.

“Yet he never saw the internal Office of Institutional Research report, which found top athletes and legacies are more likely to gain one of the school’s coveted seats — while being Asian-American puts potential students at a disadvantage,” reported the “New York Post.”

On cross-examination by Harvard’s lawyer, Khurana said he’s never seen any information suggesting that the admissions office discriminated against Asian-Americans.

“I would have raised multiple alarms with multiple people without any hesitation,” he told the court.

This high-profile case which is on trial for the next three weeks will probably be eventually decided in the US Supreme Court.

Harvard has rejected the assertion that it has an anti-Asian bias and places caps on the number of Asians it will admit each year to ensure the elite institution is not over run by high-scoring Asians.

Harvard denies the charge, saying its "holistic" admissions process looks at applicants' "extracurricular activities and leadership qualities". However, the Asian groups have contended for a very long time that the university uses amorphous “holistic” criteria as a way to apply different standards to different applicant groups — e.g., play down objective test marks for Asian students, play up testimonials and recommendation letters for whites. 

Students for Fair Admissions say it has detected patterns supporting its claim that Asian-Americans are held to a higher standard than other applicants. The group contends that Harvard engages in unlawful racial balancing, violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.



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