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Judge Rules Harvard Did Not Engage in Asian American Admissions Discrimination

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  • Tuesday, a federal judge in Boston ruled that Harvard did not discriminate against Asian Americans in its admissions process. 
  • Judge Allison Burroughs said that while Harvard’s admissions process is flawed, it is a “very fine” system, with Burroughs also concluding that race-neutral alternatives are not sufficient.
  • Students For Fair Admissions is expected to appeal the decision to the 1st Court of Appeals and potentially the United States Supreme Court, according to its president, Edward Blum.
  • The case has been carefully watched as a potential landmark trial on whether the United States still needs affirmative action.

Judge Rules in Favor of Harvard

A federal judge ruled in favor of Harvard in a 2014 lawsuit that alleged the university had engaged in admissions practices that discriminated against Asian American applicants.

In her Tuesday ruling against the Students For Fair Admissions, Judge Allison Burroughs said, “the Court finds no persuasive documentary evidence of any racial animus or conscious prejudice against Asian Americans.”

Burroughs concluded Harvard had only ever used race as a “plus” factor, writing in her 130-page decision that the university only used race to help students rather than hurt them.

She also said the university shows commitment to recruiting students “who are exceptional across multiple dimensions.”

“The court will not dismantle a very fine admissions program that passes constitutional muster, solely because it could do better,” she said.

Perhaps the biggest conclusion Burroughs reached was that race-neutral alternatives are not sufficient. In fact, she says race-conscious admissions are needed to ensure diversity at Harvard. 

She rejected ideas like Harvard admitting every applicant with a perfect GPA, saying the university would have to expand its freshman class by 400 percent each year then reject every student without a perfect GPA regardless of their athletic, extracurricular, or other academic achievements, or life experiences.

Additionally, Burroughs was skeptical of other ideas such as the SFFA’s proposal to have Harvard consider socioeconomic status instead of race. In her decision, she said she feared such a process would not truly be race-neutral.

Harvard’s attorney, William Lee, called the decision “a significant victory not merely for Harvard, but also for all schools and students, for diversity, and for the rule of law. As the court has recognized, now is not the time to turn back the clock on diversity and opportunity.”

What Was in the Lawsuit?

The SFFA primarily accused Harvard of implementing racial balancing techniques in the university’s admissions process, essentially claiming that Harvard set a quota for different minorities in the makeup of its incoming classes.

The SFFA then alleged Asian American students were being forced to meet higher standards, saying Asian American students were consistently performing better academically than other minority races.

It looked to support those claims by providing evidence that the percentage of admitted students from different racial groups was about the same each year, that being 20 percent Asian American, 15 percent African American, 12 percent Latino, and roughly 50 percent caucasian.

In addition to racial balancing, the SFFA accused university admissions officers of promoting racial stereotypes against Asian Americans. That argument boiled down to the university’s personal rating system, which includes aspects like the applicant’s background and their character.

There, the SFFA alleged that admissions officers used stereotypical language describing them as “quiet,” “bland,” or “not exciting.”

Burroughs also addressed this concern in her decision, finding that while officers had described some Asian applicants as “quiet,” “shy,” or “understated,” that language was also used on a significant portion of other students of various racial identities.

While the lawsuit was open, Harvard defended itself by saying while it took race into account, race was only one of about 200 other factors. Some of those other factors include class year, gender, SAT/ACT scores, GPA, as well as intended career and whether or not an applicant’s parents went to an Ivy League school.

What Happens Next?

SFFA President Edward Blum has said he will appeal the case in the 1st Court of Appeals, and if necessary, he would appeal the case to the United States Supreme Court. 

The lawsuit represents what could potentially be a pivotal case in the polarizing topic of affirmative action and whether it is still relevant in the U.S. today. 

Though the SFFA waits to see if their case is successfully appealed, the lawsuit did pressure Harvard to enact some changes to its admissions process. 

Chiefly, the university has directed its admissions officers to “not take an applicant’s race or ethnicity into account in making any of the ratings other than the overall rating.”

It has also changed its personal rating criteria, with officers now being asked to consider “qualities of character.” Some of those include “genuineness,” “selflessness,” “humility,” “spirit and camaraderie with peers,” “courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles,” “leadership,” “maturity,” and “resiliency.”

See what others are saying: (BBC) (CNN) (New York Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban

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  • President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil. 
  • Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
  • The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions. 

Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.

That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.

Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”

It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead. 

Biden To Block Trump’s Order

Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.

“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.  In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect. 

It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.

Source: Whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions

Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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