DOJ Sides with Asian-Americans in Bias Suit Against Harvard - Higher Education
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DOJ Sides with Asian-Americans in Bias Suit Against Harvard

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The U.S. Department of Justice has indicated its strongest support to date for the plaintiffs in a controversial, highly publicized federal lawsuit alleging that Harvard University unfairly discriminates against Asian-American applicants, according to CNN and other reports.

On Thursday, the DOJ submitted a statement of interest to the court in opposition to Harvard’s motion for a summary judgment, arguing that the university “has failed to demonstrate that its use of race is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest” and that “the record contains substantial evidence that Harvard is determined to continue its use of race indefinitely despite available race-neutral alternatives.”

“The record evidence demonstrates that Harvard’s race-based admissions process significantly disadvantages Asian-American applicants compared to applicants of other racial groups – including both White applicants and applicants from other racial minority groups,” the statement said in part.

“The evidence, moreover, shows that Harvard provides no meaningful criteria to cabin its use of race; uses a vague ‘personal rating’ that harms Asian-American applicants’ chances for admission and may be infected with racial bias; engages in unlawful racial balancing; and has never seriously considered race-neutral alternatives in its more than 45 years of using race to make admissions decisions.”

The case is scheduled for trial in Boston in October.

The university denies capping the number of Asian-American students. Admissions officials at the Ivy League school say they consider all aspects of applicants’ backgrounds and their ability to contribute to the academic setting.

Harvard issued a statement saying it is “deeply disappointed” with the Justice Department for siding with a group that is “recycling the same misleading and hollow arguments. Harvard does not discriminate against applicants from any group, and will continue to vigorously defend the legal right of every college and university to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which the Supreme Court has consistently upheld for more than 40 years.”

Independently of the case, Justice Department officials are investigating the Harvard admissions policy in response to a similar complaint filed by a coalition of Asian-American associations. For months, the Justice Department has indicted that it may weigh in on the U.S. District Court litigation in favor of the plaintiff group, Students for Fair Admissions. The group was created by Edward Blum, a conservative advocate who has long fought affirmative action.

Also on Thursday, a group of more than 500 social scientists and scholars sided with Harvard in an amicus brief, writing that Students for Fair Admissions is relying on “unreliable and isolated measures of merit” and “the myth of an Asian penalty” in admissions.

The case may reach the Supreme Court, which first allowed for racial affirmative action in a landmark 1978 case. The high court upheld the race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas in a tight and closely-watched ruling last year.

Precedent rulings have determined that colleges may use race as one of numerous factors in admissions decisions. Although Asian-American students are overrepresented at the school in terms of their percentage of the U.S. population, the gist of the argument is that significant numbers of additional Asian students who are qualified are rejected based on their race in order to admit lesser-qualified students of other races.

The Justice Department has noted that the government has a legal interest in the case because Harvard accepts millions of dollars each year in federal funding.

“No American should be denied admission to school because of their race,” said attorney general Jeff Sessions. “As a recipient of taxpayer dollars, Harvard has a responsibility to conduct its admissions policy without racial discrimination by using meaningful admissions criteria that meet lawful requirements.”

LaMont Jones can be reached at ljones@diverseeducation.com.

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