Harvard’s Dean of Admissions Takes the Stand

William Fitzsimmons, Harvard Dean, Dean of Harvard Admissions

William Fitzsimmons took the stand yesterday in Harvard’s defense.

Longtime readers of our blog know that we like to infuse some drama in our writings about the highly selective college admissions process. After all, we write about the college admissions process every day. Weekdays. Weekends. Christmas Day. Yom Kippur. Without these infusions of drama, well, we’d get bored and so likely would our readers. But in all of our years opining about college admissions from atop our soapbox in the field, we’ve never seen a day like yesterday when Harvard’s longtime Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid William Fitzsimmons took the stand in federal court to essentially defend his life’s work. Fittingly, he was the first witness called in the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University case, a case that has made the cover of just about every major American newspaper this week.

The First Witness in Harvard Trial

As Nick Anderson writes in a piece for “The Washington Post” entitled “What gives you an edge in Harvard admissions? Check the trial evidence.,” “As the trial’s first witness, and one of the most influential voices in college admissions, Fitzsimmons underscored that more is at stake for Harvard than defending itself against allegations that it discriminates against Asian Americans. The university, historically a bastion of exclusivity and privilege, wants to be seen as an institution that gives everyone a fair shot. The trial is challenging that image.”

In his piece, Anderson recounts one of the more interesting exchanges between Fitzsimmons and the plaintiff’s counsel, John M. Hughes: “‘As a group, African Americans receive more of a benefit based on race in the Harvard admissions process than Hispanics, correct?’ he asked Fitzsimmons. ‘Yes,’ the dean replied. At another point, Hughes asked Fitzsimmons about a federal civil rights investigation that found evidence in 1990 that some Harvard admission officers described Asian American applicants as being ‘quiet, shy, science/math oriented, and hard workers.’ ‘Are those comments consistent with the way Harvard wants race used in its admissions process?’ Hughes asked. ‘We do not endorse — we abhor stereotypical comments,’ Fitzsimmons said. ‘This is not part of our process. This is not who I am, and it’s not who our admissions committee members are.'”

Of course, nothing we’ve heard so far in the Harvard trial has been revelatory. We’ve been writing for many years how highly selective colleges, like Harvard, don’t value hard workers. We’ve been writing for many years how highly selective colleges, like Harvard, stereotype applicants and discriminate against Asian American candidates for admission. But while Fitzsimmons’ responses to the interrogatories may not be revelatory, it doesn’t take away from the fact that a group fighting to end Asian American discrimination in admissions has Harvard’s longtime dean of admissions on the stand, answering questions under penalty of perjury. Now that’s pretty cool.


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