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Harvard University campus. Photo: Brooks Kraft/Corbis via Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled in favor of Harvard’s race conscious admissions process, finding that the university did not discriminate against Asian American applicants.

Why it matters: The long-awaited decision reaffirms an admissions process that considers race and how diversity should influence the makeup of an incoming class. The ruling, which could be appealed, may impact recruitment programs and financial aid.

Background: Students for Fair Admissions filed a lawsuit in 2014, arguing that Harvard's admissions office holds Asian Americans to a higher standard and uses a subjective "personal rating" to limit their admission to the elite Ivy League school.

  • Lawyers for Harvard argued that Asian American applicants do not get penalized, but that black and Latin American students do sometimes get a “tip” when admissions officers are awarding an overall score for applicants.
  • The ruling said that the anti-affirmative action challenger did not present "a single admissions file that reflected discriminatory animus." The school’s admissions process is sound with Supreme Court precedents and does not violate federal civil rights law, the judge found.
"Removing considerations of race and ethnicity from Harvard’s admissions process entirely would deprive applicants, including Asian American applicants, of their right to advocate the value of their unique background, heritage, and perspective."
— U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs

The big picture: When Harvard was forced to reveal its secret method during trial, it revealed that it gave Asian American applicants lower ratings on average than applicants of other races in categories that included "positive personality" and being "widely respected," per an analysis of more than 160,000 student records.

  • Americans have long shown a dislike for considering race and ethnicity in the college admissions process. A survey from the Pew Research Center in February found that 73% of Americans believe it should not be a factor.

Between the lines: The admissions process is just as much about admitting Ivy League legacies, children of big donors and athletes as pitting Asian Americans up against Latino and black applicants.

What they're saying: House Education and Labor chairman and Harvard grad Bobby Scott (D-Va) supported the district court's decision, saying in a statement that it it "affirms the constitutionality of admissions policies that recognize that there is a compelling interest in advancing a diverse student body."

Go deeper

58 mins ago - World

COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming

Recreated from Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

South Africa alerted the world to the Omicron variant. Now data out of South Africa may serve as a warning of what we're facing.

Driving the news: South Africa recorded 11,535 new cases Thursday with 22.4% of tests coming back positive — up from an average of about 300 new cases, with a 2% test positivity rate 10 days earlier. The country's top public health officials expect that exponential rise to continue as Omicron rapidly becomes the dominant variant.

BuzzFeed to go public, after shareholders approve SPAC deal

Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is set to become publicly traded on Monday, after shareholders of a SPAC called 890 Fifth Avenue Partners voted to approve a previously-announced merger.

Yes, but: The vast majority of the money the SPAC raised in January was yanked, a signal that investors aren't very optimistic about BuzzFeed's future prospects.

Omicron cases confirmed in 4 U.S. states

A healthcare worker inserts a Covid-19 rapid test into a machine in Denver, Colorado. Photo: Daniel Brenner/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Five cases of the newly-discovered Omicron variant were detected in New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday, making New York the fourth state with confirmed cases.

The latest: In addition to New York, the variant has been confirmed in California, Colorado and Minnesota.

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