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In the Face of Unsettling Truths

  1.     In 2013, Harvard’s internal Office of Institutional Research (“OIR”) put together several documents and memorandums highlighting potentially concerning statistics around the admissions rate of Asian-Americans. One slide that was ultimately shared with Dean Fitzsimmons has an agenda item “Does the process disadvantage Asians?” In a subsequent memo addressed to Dean Fitzsimmons, OIR includes the table below and warns, “ While we find that low income students clearly receive a ‘tip’ in the admissions process, our descriptive analysis and regression models also show that the tip for legacies and athletes is larger and that there are demographic groups that have negative effects.” The only demographic group with a negative effect is Asians, as highlighted below. Both SFFA and Harvard agree that no further action was taken to investigate the “negative effects” highlighted in the memo.

  2.     Harvard’s Admissions Office sends out recruiting emails to students in 20 states deemed “sparse country” in order to increase the representation of these regions on campus. Whether a student in sparse country receives a letter from Harvard or not depends on his or her PSAT score. However, the PSAT cut-off score for receiving a letter differs by race. African-American and Latino students received a letter if they scored above 1,100 out of a possible 1,600. White applicants must score 1,310 or higher. Asian women must score 1,350 to receive a letter. And Asian men had to receive 1,380 or higher. That is to say, two students living in the same town, attending the same high school, based on nothing else but their ethnicity, needed to meet different thresholds to receive a recruitment letter from Harvard.

  3.     The Harvard OIR report includes a graph showing that Asian-Americans scored lower on personality than white applicants, and subsequent analysis by SFFA found that Asian-Americans had the lowest personality score of any ethnic group. The below chart by OIR shows that Asian-American applicants scored favorably compared to white applicants on the Academic Index and Extracurricular Index, while alumni ratings, teacher recommendation ratings, and guidance counselor ratings were comparable to that of white applicants. However, the “Personal Rating” assigned by the Admissions Office by admissions officers who have never met with the applicant resulted in Asian-Americans being assigned significantly lower Personal Ratings compared to applicants of other ethnicities.

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