Harvard officials testified today that taking race out of its admissions process would harm the mission of the school.
The officials were testifying in a trial where Harvard is defending itself against accusations that it discriminates against Asian-American applicants. The lawsuit is brought by a group called Students for Fair Admissions.
Last year, Harvard College started a committee to look into the possibility of dropping the consideration of race from its admissions process. That committee, which wrapped up in April of this year, concluded if Harvard stopped using race, the proportion African-American students would be expected to drop from 14 percent to 6 percent, while the Hispanic and "other" student proportion would drop from 14 percent to 9 percent.
The committee recommended the college re-evaluate its consideration of race-neutral options in five years.
Rakesh Khurana, dean of Harvard College, testified that not considering race would damage the school. "It would significantly set us back as an institution," he said.
Khurana also said that if he had ever seen any bias against Asian-American applicants, he would have done something. "I would raise multiple alarms, with multiple people, without any hesitation," he testified.
In 2013, the Supreme Court took on a case where a white student claimed the University of Texas' use of race in admission decisions was unconstitutional. Ed Blum, the president of Students for Fair Admissions of SFFA, helped organize that case.
In the runup to the Harvard trial, Blum has cited the part of the court's Texas decision that holds that "strict scrutiny imposes on the university the ultimate burden of demonstrating, before turning to racial classifications, that available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice."
When SFFA lawyers called Michael Smith, the former dean of the faculty of arts and sciences who chaired the committee to explore race-neutral alternatives, one of the questions they posed was about the role of legacies or applicants whose parents went to Harvard.
At one point, SFFA asked Smith, a current faculty member, if the reason they didn't eliminate race from consideration is because doing so would mean Harvard would also have to end legacy admissions — if the school sought to preserve racial diversity.
Smith said that wasn't the case.
When it was their turn for questioning, Harvard lawyers asked Smith if there is a policy when dealing with alumni who have children. He said the policy is to not solicit donations from alumni with a child who is about to enter or is already in the admissions pool.
Smith also spoke on the damage taking away race from the admissions process at this time would have, saying he could not "overestimate the kind of harm this kind of change would have on Harvard College" and its educational mission.
Drew Faust, the former president of Harvard, was expected to testify early this week. But, due to schedule conflicts, she is not expected to testify until Friday or next week. Instead of SFFA calling her, Harvard will bring her to the stand.
Kirk Carapezza contributed to this report.