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Notable & Quotable: Implicit Bias and Harvard

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Notable & Quotable: Implicit Bias and Harvard

The Wall Street Journal October 31, 2019
EducationHigher Ed

‘In every other context, Harvard embraces the idea. ... Faced on the stand with such an accusation itself, however, the college declares the concept ludicrous.’

From “Harvard Admits Its Preferences” by Heather Mac Donald in the New Criterion’s November issue:

On September 30, a federal district court judge in Boston upheld Harvard’s use of racial preferences in undergraduate admissions against the challenge that they discriminate against Asian-Americans. ... Asian applicants receive lower personal ratings than whites with otherwise similar rankings. ...

This personal ratings debate ultimately proved a sideshow. But it did provide one of the more hilarious instances of Harvard’s hypocrisy, in a trial filled with such hypocrisy. [Students for Fair Admissions, the plaintiff] had suggested that perhaps Harvard was implicitly (i.e., unconsciously) biased against Asians, whatever its conscious intent. Harvard professed to be outraged at such a suggestion. SFFA “makes the extraordinary suggestion that Harvard must prove it ‘has uniquely escaped [the] infiltration’ of societal prejudice,” Harvard wrote in its final brief. To invoke the specter of implicit bias simply demonstrates that SFFA lacks all evidence for bias, the righteous defendant sniffed.

Harvard’s contempt for the implicit bias concept was rich, to say the least. Harvard hosts the Project Implicit website, which offers free computer tests of the test-taker’s implicit biases against people of color and other allegedly disfavored groups. One of the two developers of that test, known as the Implicit Association Test, Mahzarin Banaji, is a professor of social ethics in Harvard’s psychology department; Banaji consults with corporations and governments around the country, teaching them how to overcome their employees’ deep-seated prejudices. In every other context, Harvard embraces the idea animating Project Implicit: that nearly all members of our bigoted society are infected by unconscious bias. Faced on the stand with such an accusation itself, however, the college declares the concept ludicrous.

This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal (paywall)

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Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor at City Journal, and the author of the bestselling War on Cops and The Diversity Delusion. Follow her on Twitter here.

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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