Here is an article about the second day of the trial. Colleges have the right to weigh personality alongside academic credentials, but I do wonder if students should be accepted based in part on perceptions of "unusual effervescence" (a quote from the article). Someone who is reserved but studious could still make good contributions to class discussions.

Harvard Cites Weaker Teacher Recommendations for Asian-American Applicants
Oct. 16, 2018 4:17 p.m. ET
Wall Street Journal

BOSTON—Harvard’s admissions dean testified Tuesday that weaker teacher and guidance-counselor recommendations are one reason why Asian-American applicants as a group score lower than white applicants in the “personal rating” portion of the school’s admissions process.

The rating, which assesses an applicant’s personal qualities, has been a central focus for the plaintiffs in a trial that began Monday accusing Harvard of intentionally discriminating against Asian-Americans. Harvard’s own data show Asian-American applicants as a group score higher than white applicants in academics and extracurriculars, but lower in the personal rating.

William Fitzsimmons, who has been Harvard’s admissions dean since 1986, said in federal court Tuesday that the lower rating wasn’t due to Asian-American applicants having fewer attractive personal qualities than white applicants. He said one reason for the gap could be due to “somewhat stronger” teacher and guidance-counselor recommendations given to white applicants.

He said he didn’t know if Asian-American applicants had weaker recommendations than African-American or Hispanic applicants. The plaintiffs say Asian-Americans have the lowest personal scores of any racial group.

U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs, an Obama appointee, will decide after the three-week trial whether Harvard’s admissions practices violate federal civil-rights law. Whether the judge accepts Mr. Fitzsimmons’s explanation could play a role in her decision. Harvard says its policies adhere to Supreme Court precedents.

The trial stems from a lawsuit filed in 2014 by Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit whose members include Asian-Americans rejected by Harvard. Lawyers for the plaintiffs have pushed Harvard to explain the racial gap in personal ratings, which they say is evidence of intentional discrimination. Harvard has said admissions officers don’t consider race in the personal rating.

The rating, according to Harvard, uses teacher recommendations, alumni interviews and student essays to consider whether an applicant will be a good roommate or could contribute to the campus community. Harvard’s admissions procedures ask readers to look for “consistent testimony of an applicant’s unusual effervescence, charity, maturity, or strength of character."

A chart displayed during Harvard’s opening statement showed teacher recommendations and alumni interviewer ratings matter much more in admissions decisions than race does.

The school has stressed throughout the litigation that each applicant is reviewed independently, and patterns across racial or ethnic groups aren’t the result of any broader discriminatory practice.

The gap between white and Asian-American applicants’ personal ratings was also cited in a 1990 report by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which investigated Harvard for similar complaints. The report, referenced at length in Tuesday’s testimony, found Harvard didn’t discriminate against Asian-American applicants, but flagged racial stereotypes reflected in admissions officers’ comments.

Harvard’s admissions readers, who evaluate students’ applications, “quite often” described Asian-American applicants as shy, science- and math-oriented, and hard workers, the report said. One reader, for instance, wrote of an applicant: “He’s quiet and, of course, wants to be a doctor.”