Today, a US District Court ruled that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policies passes strict scrutiny. The full ruling is here. I live-tweeted a read through of the decision here, in case you’d like a bit of rambly commentary mixing Gelman-esque critiques of statistical methodology with a smattering of critical race theory. Here are some of my takeaways:
A few summary thoughts:
1. Forking paths, y’all.
2. Deference to elite institutions and their priorities is a thing.
3. Athletics and legacies are a huge part of the calculus at a place like Harvard and the law is cool with that.
4. “Race as a variable” framing is strongly affiliated with current jurisprudence on affirmative action, and statistically enacted in relatively simple statistical models.
5. No discussion of diversity *within* Asian Americans, that is, they are treated as a homogenous race.
6. I don’t understand why Harvard gets a pass on using guidance counselor recs if there’s evidence that they are biased (though I’m not sure that evidence exists, the Court seems to say it wouldn’t matter?!).
7. Nothing in this discourse criticizes the measures of academic merit themselves, even as Harvard and the Court vaguely gesture at the idea that such measures may themselves mean different things for people from different backgrounds.
8. We all still care way too much about who gets into Harvard (myself included, unfortunately). But if you want to understand racial inequality in higher ed, that’s not the first place to look. Instead, look at predatory for-profits. Look at the defunding of public ed. Etc.
There’s no fair way to allocate entrance into highly unequal institutions. The solution can’t be found in tweaking the mechanism determining who gets in to one of the few highly resourced schools. That said, it’s probably still better that Harvard (and Austin and Michigan) won. The alternative would be ending one of the last explicitly race-conscious attempts to undo, albeit in a very small way, the massive racial inequalities that persist in the US.