Prairie View A&M University President Ruth Simmons took the stand Tuesday on behalf of Harvard University in a trial over admissions policies that could impact college affirmative action programs across the nation.
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Simmons, who is also the first African-American president of an Ivy League school, told the court that the various criteria schools use to make admission decisions, including legacy and athletic achievement, “all play a legitimate role in the admission process,” according to Law360.com reporter Chris Villani who has been covering the trial.
Lawyers for Harvard and anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) began their weeks-long court battle on Oct. 15. Harvard was accused of discriminating against Asian-American applicants in its admissions process.
Simmons is a highly regarded educator. She served as president of Brown University from 2001 until 2012, coming out of retirement in April to become the eighth president at Prairie View. Simmons’ personal journey, from the child of a sharecropper and maid to the heights of academia, is inspirational.
SFFA alleged that Harvard systematically rejects qualified Asian-Americans to maintain illegal racial quotas.
Harvard received 42,749 applications for its class of 2022 and admitted 2,024 of them, according to the university’s data. The class is comprised of 47.3 percent white students, 22.9 percent Asian-Americans and 15.2 percent African-Americans. But it was the race-based considerations that were preventing the Asian-American student population from being much higher, the plaintiffs have contended.
Simmons testified about the value of diversity to schools and society, pointing out that Harvard achieves integration, in part, through its campus housing. She pointed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sharing a room with Haitian-American Olympic triple jumper Samyr Laine.
She became emotional on the stand when discussing divisions in American society while reflecting on the recent white nationalist shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.