Harvard and SFFA Face Off Again

Harvard Case, Harvard Lawsuit, Harvard Admission
Will Harvard prevail in the SFFA v. Harvard University case?

Harvard University and the group known as Students For Fair Admissions, a group currently suing Harvard for allegedly discriminating against Asian American applicants, faced off again yesterday in a post-trial hearing. As our readers likely remember, the two sides previously faced off in a three-week October 2018 trial; the decision now rests in the hands of Judge Allison D. Burroughs. So what was the subject of the post-trial hearing? It concerned whether or not admissions data from recent admissions cycles reflects a bias against Asian American applicants.

Harvard and SFFA Economists Reach Different Conclusions About Admissions Data

As reports Camille G. Caldera and Sahar M. Mohammadzadeh for “The Harvard Crimson” in a piece entitled “Harvard and SFFA Spar Over Discrimination Claims in Post-Trial Hearing,” “SFFA alleges that Harvard admissions officers consistently gave lower ‘personal ratings’ — numerical scores assigned to College hopefuls that evaluate them on qualities like humor and grit — to Asian-American applicants than applicants of other races. Both Harvard and SFFA hired experts to conduct their own analyses of the data. David E. Card, the University’s expert and an economics professor at University of California, Berkeley, argued that there was no statistically significant difference between admissions outcomes for Asian Americans and other applicants. SFFA’s expert, Duke economics professor Peter S. Arcidiacono, contended that the data actually reveals a persistent bias against Asian-American Harvard hopefuls.”

It’s fascinating how two different economists examining the same set of data can reach two vastly different conclusions, isn’t it? But hey, Mark Twain taught the world years ago about “the three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Incentive, we imagine, is also important to an economist. The economist making the case for Harvard is incentivized to find a story in the data that supports Harvard’s position, while the economist making the case for SFFA is incentivized to find a very different story in the numbers. Only time will tell which economist’s interpretation of the data is more compelling to Judge Burroughs.


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