Monday, July 30, 2018

Harvard still in denial

Harvard strenuously denied allegations that it discriminates against Asian-American applicants and sought to discredit the legal challenge to its admissions policies in court documents filed Friday.

The Ivy League college, whose admissions practices are at the center of a federal affirmative action lawsuit, argued that it values the ethnic backgrounds of its Asian-American applicants and has not capped the number of students it lets in based on their race.

Harvard called the statistical analysis done by Students for Fair Admissions, which mounted the discrimination lawsuit, “deeply flawed,” fostering a “misleading narrative.” The university offered a paragraph-by-paragraph rebuttal to what it described as the plaintiff’s “900 paragraphs of supposedly undisputed facts — many of which are neither undisputed nor even facts,” according to court documents.

Harvard’s filings on Friday were the first formal response to allegations by Students for Fair Admissions that the school limits the number of Asian-American applicants it accepts and that across the academic spectrum those applicants receive lower ratings on their personal traits from the university’s admissions officers than their peers.

Both Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions, which represents several Asian-American students, presented summaries of their evidence in the case in June. But Harvard insisted that Students for Fair Admissions’ arguments thus far fall short of proving intentional discrimination, and fail to meet the standards for a quick judgment on the organization’s behalf.

Harvard called its opponent’s June filing a “45-page press release, devoted to presenting a misleading narrative that is manifestly subject to genuine dispute,” according to court documents.

Judge Allison D. Burroughs has indicated that a trial is likely, and has already scheduled a start date for Oct. 15 in federal court in Boston.

Edward Blum, leading the charge on behalf of Students for Fair Admissions, said the organization will present its counter to Harvard on Monday.

In a statement he said, “Students for Fair Admissions looks forward to presenting our case at trial in October at which time the remaining redacted data, memos, emails and depositions Harvard refuses to disclose will be made public.”

Last year, 22 percent of Harvard’s admitted students were Asian-American, 15 percent were black, and 12 percent were Hispanic.

Harvard has sought to keep much of its admissions information under wraps, citing protection of its students and the exposure of potential trade secrets about how it determines who among more than 40,000 applicants will be offered fewer than 1,700 seats each year.

The high-stakes case could transform how colleges consider race in admissions and is being closely watched by university leaders, legal scholars, conservative and liberal interest groups, and the US Department of Justice.

Blum, the organization’s president, has been involved in other anti-affirmative-action cases and most recently backed a challenge to race-based admissions at the University of Texas that centered on a white student. In that case, the Supreme Court determined that colleges could use race as one of many factors in admissions.

But the Harvard case opens a new front against affirmative action, charging that it hurts Asian-American college applicants.

Several outside groups are likely to file their own briefs in the case next week. The Justice Department under President Trump has urged schools to drop race-conscious admissions policies and earlier this month overturned Obama-era guidelines on affirmative action, a signal some experts said that the federal government also will get involved in the Harvard case.

“It’s the affirmative action wars here,” said Anthony Carnevale, the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, who has studied college access.

Elite schools such as Harvard are models for other colleges,and the case and discussions that come out of it will probably have reverberations across higher education, Carnevale said.

Experts also expect the case to ultimately reach the Supreme Court in the coming years.

As part of its case against the university, Students for Fair Admissions tapped Duke University economist Peter Arcidiacono for its analysis of six years of Harvard’s admissions data. Arcidiacono’s analysis found that many more Asian-American contenders for Harvard’s freshman slots were described as “standard strong” — a phrase that Harvard uses to describe applicants with strong qualities but not strong enough to merit admission — even when they performed better academically than students of other races who were so described by admissions officers.

But Harvard said Friday that describing students as “standard strong” was not an “epithet.” In fact, Harvard argued, it doesn’t penalize Asian-Americans based on their race, but values their experience in the admissions process. Harvard said it trains its admissions officers to understand the nuances between various Asian-American communities and to avoid treating them as a bloc.

In its filings, the university pointed out that Harvard’s admissions officers highlighted how one student’s parents were born in Tibetan refugee camps in India and that another Vietnamese applicant was the first in the family to go to college and was the valedictorian for an un-named citywide magnet school.

Harvard also criticized Arcidiacono’s methodology because he excluded applicants who are given an extra boost in the process, including recruited athletes and students of alumni, which reduces the sample pool and magnifies gaps between racial groups.

While Students for Fair Admissions acknowledged and outlined these practices in court documents, Harvard said leaving that information out of the core data analysis skewed the results.

Harvard said its opponents “cherry-picked” information to support their case.

Harvard contends that its evidence shows that it uses race appropriately in admissions and that Asian-Americans were not penalized in the process. Having a diverse student body is a cornerstone of its education, Harvard insists.

Both Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions are likely to see various outside groups coming to their defense in the coming weeks.

Jin Hee Lee, senior deputy director of Litigation with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc., said the case, which seeks to overturn affirmative action, isn’t just about Asian-American students.

The case “goes to the heart of what the university should be,” said Lee, who is representing Harvard student and alumni groups that will be filing in support of the university next week.

For centuries, Harvard was open to only wealthy, white, men, and many fear that if the university loses the case, it could be a step back in who has access to the Ivy League school, Lee said.

“This case is important and people feel very strongly about it,” Lee said.


Britain's teachers of terror: How extremists infiltrated classrooms

Twenty-four hours after Khuram Butt led his last Quranic class for the young children of an English Islamic school in June 2017, he strapped on a fake suicide vest, pumped himself up with steroids and committed a terrorist atrocity.

The dedicated extremist led three men in a murderous attack on the capital’s London Bridge, mowing down pedestrians and embarking on a frenzy of stabbing that left eight dead and dozens injured before they themselves were shot dead by police.

What was not known at the time was that for four months before the attack, the 27-year-old had been given the opportunity to mould the minds of young Muslims at the fee-paying Eton community school on the outskirts of London. He had no Arabic, no specialist knowledge and was unsupervised despite a conviction for violence.

The fallout from the murders and the scandal of the unsupervised sessions concluded this month with the school’s head receiving a life ban from teaching. But documents seen and interviews conducted by The National have revealed flaws within the British schooling system that allowed extremism like Butt’s to flourish unchecked.

Even before the revelation of his involvement in lessons, the school had remained open despite its founder being exposed in the media as a key player for the now banned extremist group Al Muhajiroun.

His wife was the school's former head teacher but she had tried to hide their relationship from the authorities. Sophie Rahman described laws that ensured schools play their part in identifying potential extremism as an attempt to "silence" Muslims speaking out against "state structured discrimination".

And yet just months before the school was effectively closed by its landlord – a Muslim charity dedicated to countering radicalisation – officers for the English education inspection agency, Ofsted, found the school’s leaders had taken effective action to ensure a "far more robust" safeguarding culture in the school.

"Either the inspectors are not up to the job, they don’t ask the right questions or … they’re not probing deeply enough,” said Mike Gapes, the local member of parliament, who had previously raised concerns about the school in the House of Commons. "It's either that, or they're having the wool pulled over their eyes by a school who created a facade while the really extremist stuff was happening behind."

The case follows another scandal earlier this year when it emerged that an administrator tried to recruit a 300-strong children’s army at a different independent Muslim school to act as a “death squad sent by Allah” and carry out terrorist attacks. Inspectors had once described the school as “outstanding”, despite such activity being at its height.

The cases have exposed the failings of an inspection regime that has been subject to constant financial cuts over more than a decade, resulted in a shortage of monitors and cut the quality of their work, the UK’s spending watchdog said in May.

In the case involving Butt, the school in Ilford, Essex – initially named Ad-Deen Islamic Primary School – opened in September 2009, charging £2,040-a-year to provide “very high quality academic education alongside classical Islamic culturing,” according to the establishment's website.

The school’s social media sites showed pictures of happy children making and selling cakes, collecting money for people suffering in Syria, and painting. The reality behind the pictures told a different story.

Its proprietor and main shareholder, Sajeel Shahid, set up a terrorist training camp in Pakistan that was attended by the leader of the July 7, 2005, attacks on the London transport network that killed 52 people.

Mr Shahid was reportedly sent from Britain by the leaders of Al Muhajiroun to become a key figure in Pakistan – a country seen by the group as being ripe for Islamic revolution – and where extremists were sent to train before returning to Britain to plot bombings.

Mr Shahid, who holds a computer science degree from Manchester, ran the group’s safehouses in Lahore. In one interview in 2001, he told a newspaper: “We see the American and British governments as the biggest terrorists in the world.”

Mr Shahid was named in a 2007 court case as a contact for the kingpin of a plot to target shopping centres and nightclubs in Britain with home-made bombs made from fertiliser. Five men were jailed in 2007, but Mr Shahid was not prosecuted. He was detained for several months in Pakistan in 2005, according to reports, and expelled over alleged links to Al Qaeda.

Despite his background, Mr Shahid was able to rent space from a community centre in Ilford, on the eastern edge of the British capital, and start running a primary school in an area with a majority south Asian population and known for its links to Al Muhajiroun.

Anjem Choudhary, a hate preacher and key figure in the development of Al Muhajiroun, lived just three streets away before he was jailed in 2015 for inviting support for ISIS.

The group's co-founder Omar Bakri Mohammed, a Syrian-born extremist who moved to Britain in the 1980s, preached at the community centre before he was thrown out – and subsequently banned from entering Britain in 2005.

“He [Bakri] used this place for his talks,” said Bashir Chaudhary, the chairman of the League of British Muslims UK that runs the centre. “He said something that was inappropriate for Islamic teaching. I stood up and his followers shouted me down. Eventually we had to throw him out.”

The group secured notoriety when it tried to organise a conference after the September 11, 2001 attacks dedicated to the “Magnificent 19” plotters responsible for bringing down the World Trade Center in New York. Al Muhajiroun’s followers have been linked to a series of terrorist attacks in Britain and abroad and the groups leaders’ have been cited as inspirations for British fighters who travelled to Syria to join the ranks of ISIS.

Company documents showed that Mr Shahid, 42, set up an education business two years after the school opened in 2009, attended by some 50 children aged three to 11. Mr Shahid – known as Abu Ibrahim – led Friday prayers at the community centre, said Mr Chaudhary.

The Dutch national quit as director in March 2014, several weeks before a British newspaper exposed his extremist background.

His position as director and proprietor was taken by Sophie Rahman, 42, according to company filings, his wife and the mother of his children.

Despite an “urgent” investigation by the Department for Education (DfE), the school was allowed to continue operating. Officials declined to say if they were aware of the relationship between the couple, or if it took steps to remove Mr Shahid as proprietor.

Documents suggest that the authorities were told that Mr Shahid was a member of Al Muhajiroun before it was proscribed by the government when he claimed to have given up his membership.

After he stepped down as a director and proprietor of the school, he still played an active role in its daily affairs and was responsible for paying the rent, according to Mr Chaudhary.

“I thought his [Mr Shahid’s] objective was to open a school and make money,” Mr Chaudhary told The National. “He was getting good money. How he wanted to use that money is another story.

“I later had contact with the security agencies and they told me that he was never convicted, but they had suspicions. The checks should have been made by the appropriate regulators. They were the ones to have done that.”

Inspectors branded the school “inadequate” under Ms Rahman’s leadership in 2016 but none of the parents complained, according to former councillor Ahmad Shakil Warraich, who went to the community centre every Friday. “I knew everyone and people came to me if they had any concerns,” he said. “Nobody ever contacted me.”

Mr Shahid was also a manager at an Ilford gym that had become a gathering point for extremists, and where he would have known Butt. The three London Bridge terrorists met there before they launched their deadly attack.

In submissions to her disciplinary hearing, Ms Rahman claimed that Butt approached the school and volunteered to run Quranic classes. She denied that her husband had referred him but never appeared at her own hearing to be questioned further on the claim.

Butt taught up to three classes a week in the months before the attack. Pupils reported him as saying that the “worst creatures are the kuffar”, a reference to non-believers, and told the children that it was fine to lie to their parents if there was a “state of war”.

She alerted education authorities following the attack on June 3 that Butt worked at her school, but took 41 days before giving a final list of all the children who attended his classes, her disciplinary hearing was told.

She also failed to tell authorities about her marriage to Mr Shahid, the hearing was told, and first suggested that she only knew him from the school.

The school closed its doors for the last time in August last year, its fate sealed before Ms Rahman was struck off because Mr Chaudhary decided to evict the school from the community centre. It still owed rent, he said.

That it took a major terrorist attack to reveal the school’s inner workings pointed to the failure of repeated inspections at the school, said experts.

The warning signs were there and officials in 2015 had warned that Britain's education ministry had to be “more vigilant, more inquisitive and have more robust systems in place” to root out school-based extremism.

“We should be mindful that those who inspect our schools must be as savvy as those who seek to abuse those schools to indoctrinate young minds with extremist ideas,” said Emma Webb, who has investigated extremism in schools for the Henry Jackson Society think tank.

“We need to be able to prevent these individuals from accessing young impressionable minds in the first place. If we fail, we will lose a generation to hatred and intolerance.”


Australia gains as Britain loses its appeal for foreign students

Australia is about to overtake Britain as the second most popular destination for international students.

It is likely to have already outstripped Britain in the number of overseas students from outside Europe, according to research based on international enrolment figures from across the world and suggests the UK's spot as the leading destination for European students is "about to be decimated by Brexit".

The paper by Simon Marginson, director of the Centre for Global Higher Education at University College London, draws on data from Unesco and the Higher Education Statistics Agency. It concludes that Australia may have surpassed Britain in 2018 and, if not, will almost certainly do so in 2019. The US is the top destination.

Unesco figures on incoming international students from all parts of the world appeared to show that Britain was comfortably ahead of Australia in 2015, with 431,000 overseas students compared with 294,000.

The research says the gap has narrowed substantially with international student numbers growing by 2.6 per cent between 2011 and 2015 in the UK and by 12.1 per cent in Australia over the same period. National data obtained by Times Higher Education magazine, which reported slightly different figures, suggests that these rates of growth have continued in 2016.

Professor Marginson said the government was "running a post-study work visa regime that is much less attractive than that in Canada, Australia and, until recently, the US".

"It is this, not Brexit, which will ensure that the UK moves down to number three in the global student market in 2018 or 2019," he said. "Later, however, Brexit will compound the decline." If EU students are charged international student fees post-Brexit, "then it is impossible to imagine anything other than a substantial overall drop in EU students entering the UK, and that will erode the UK's already declining global market share."

He added: "After more than half a decade in which migration politics and Home Office regulation have conspired to hold international student numbers in a flatline trend, the UK is the world's leading nation in educating international students from Europe at tertiary level, but its position is about to be decimated by Brexit's effect on tuition prices."

Australia has six universities in the global top 100 ranking, published by the magazine. The highest ranked this year was Melbourne University, which was 32nd. However, Australia is perceived as more welcoming in some countries, particularly India where numbers studying in Australia have soared.

Britain is perceived as less welcoming to international students than some other English-speaking countries. This year it emerged the Home Office may have falsely accused 7,000 foreign students of faking their proficiency in English and told them to leave.

Simon Birmingham, Australia's minister for education, put a video on YouTube in which he says students from more than 180 countries are very welcome in Australia which is a "safe and friendly place to live and study". After graduating, Australia invites international students with a qualification relating to a key occupation to apply for an 18-month visa. A post-study work stream gives extended options, with a visa of two, three or four years.


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