Civil rights attorneys and college leaders are celebrating Harvard's victory in the case challenging its consideration of race in admissions. Before the judge handed down her decision, though, some college admissions officers were not impressed with Harvard's defense in the trial.

In the weeks leading up to the judge's long-awaited decision, a survey by Gallup and Inside Higher Ed found most colleges admissions leaders did not think Harvard had put on a good defense and many disagreed with admissions practices exposed during the three-week trial, like preferences or "tips" given to the children of alumni and donors.

"There are a lot of things that maybe people wanted this case to be about, but it wasn't about all of them," said attorney Ted Shaw, who directs the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina. He said that the case's central issues had to do with race and whether Harvard held Asian-American applicants to higher standards than others.

Shaw, a former director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said Harvard effectively defended its policies.

"While the allegations said that Asian-Americans were being discriminated against on the basis of their race, there was no evidence of that," he said.

In court, the plaintiffs, Students For Fair Admissions, relied on statistics to argue Harvard systematically stereotyped Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners, shy and book-smart. The group's lawyers argued the admissions office should consider class rather than race in deciding which students to admit. That argument fits a populist mood in the country, with many Americans calling on selective colleges to do more to address income inequality.

"There may be good reason for people to think that,” Shaw said. “But this case isn't going to be all things for all of those who have critiques of higher education."

The college admissions bribery scandal that broke open in March, with wealthy parents buying admissions and faking their kids’ athletic and academic profiles, has only raised more questions about higher education, meritocracy and the country's direction, Shaw said.

In her 130-page decision, Federal District Judge Allison Burroughs did criticize Harvard's admissions program — but mildly. She said the program is not perfect, but her court will not "dismantle a very fine program ... solely because it could do better."

Burroughs said statistics submitted by plaintiffs do not explain why Asian American applicants receive, on average, lower ratings on personal characteristics. But she concluded that the disparity is not the result of intentional bias, as the plaintiffs alleged.

In its defense, Harvard presented testimony from Ruth Simmons, the former president of Brown University and the first black president of an Ivy League school. Burroughs said Simmons, who rose up the academic ranks from the segregated South as the daughter of sharecroppers, gave "perhaps the most cogent and compelling testimony presented at this trial."

Greater diversity on campus, Burroughs wrote in her conclusion, will move us to "the point where we see that race is a fact, and not the fact that tells us what is important, but we are not there yet." Until we are, Burroughs added, race-conscious admissions will have an important place in American society.

The judge also suggested Harvard’s admissions officers take diversity training to prevent unconscious bias, but she concluded that Harvard did, in fact, prove its policy is constitutional.

"That's all that really Harvard needed to do," said Carl Tobias, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Richmond.

"This is a thorny, very difficult issue that has come up over and over again — gone to the Supreme Court on many occasions — but we're still pretty much in the same place,” Tobias said. “We'll have to see how this plays out on appeal."

Edward Blum, the longtime opponent of considering race in admissions who backed the lawsuit, said the plaintiffs will appeal this decision to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, and, if necessary, to a conservative-leaning Supreme Court.