After two days of questioning from lawyers for Students for Fair Admissions, lawyers for Harvard finally got to question Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons on the third day of a trial over whether the university discriminates against Asian-American applicants.
Continuing questioning from the daybefore, lawyers for the plaintiff focused on a couple key aspects of Harvard's admissions practices, namely its treatment of applicants whose families donated to the university.
They presented correspondence between Fitzsimmons and a former Harvard tennis coach thanking Fitzsimmons for "rolling out the red carpet" for an applicant who made a sizable admission to the school.
Fitzsimmons also said he couldn’t recall seeing a 2013 internal document showing admissions officials scoring white applicants significantly higher on personality traits than Asian-Americans.
"I see lots of documents," Fitzsimmons said.
He also suggested one reason Asian-Americans scored lower in Harvard’s ratings is because, on average, they get weaker teacher recommendations than white applicants.
They also questioned Fitzsimmons on "tips," personal factors that might help an applicant gain admission.
They presented a report that showed tips tended to benefit legacy admissions and athletes but put certain demographic groups, including Asians, at a disadvantage. Harvard denies these claims.
While on the stand being questioned about these numbers, Fitzsimmons said he was not an expert on those specific statistics.
Once it was Harvard's turn to question Fitzsimmons, the tone of the questioning changed.
Bill Lee, who is representing Harvard in this case, started by asking Fitzsimmons if it's necessary to understand the whole process to get a better picture of Harvard's admissions process, to which the Dean responded "absolutely."
During questioning, Lee asked if applicants with lower academic ratings ever got accepted over those with higher academic ratings.
"It happens all the time," Fitzsimmons said.
Lee also asked Fitzsimmons to read from a 1990 federal Office for Civil Rights report on potential anti-Asian bias in Harvard's admissions.
That report concluded that, while descriptions of a few Asian-American applicants could have been stereotyping, they could not be shown to have damaged the students' prospects.
Fitzsimmons also explained admissions officers look at a number of criteria, including subjective criteria outside of just grades, to choose who Harvard would admit.
Lee highlighted a portion of the admissions guidebook that read, "The Admission Committee values objective criteria, but holds a more expansive view of excellence. The Committee also scrutinizes applications for extracurricular distinction and personal qualities.”
As a whole, this overall look at students was an attempt to help diversify the school.
"The more diverse the students are, the richer the education," Fitzsimmons said.
Lee also questioned Fitzsimmons as his background growing up in a low-income family in Massachusetts. He said that his experience at the university "totally transformed my life."
He also said Harvard was much more monolithic at the time. There were almost no students of color, a 4 to 1 male to female ratio, and very few international student and first generation students.
"It was a totally different world," he said.
None of the anonymous plaintiffs will testify at the trial.
Following testimony on Wednesday, a reporter asked President of Students For Fair Admissions Edward Blum if any of the plaintiffs were in the courtroom.
"Even if they were, I wouldn't tell you," he said.
Testimony continues tomorrow.
Kirk Carapezza contributed to this report.