Admissions Lawsuit Plaintiff Requests Extensive Harvard Records for Discovery

Students for Fair Admissions, the nonprofit group suing Harvard for alleged race-based discrimination in its admissions practices, will have 10 to 12 months to gather evidence to support its allegations, although Harvard is disputing which admissions documents will be made available to the group during the discovery period.

Representatives from Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions met at Boston’s Moakley Courthouse on Thursday to discuss the lawsuit, which alleges that the University sets “target percentages” for underrepresented minorities and illegal quotas on students of Asian descent in its undergraduate admissions processes.

William S. Consovoy, a lawyer representing Students for Fair Admissions, requested that Harvard supply personal essays, comments from alumni interviewers, and summary sheets containing comments from admissions officers to the plaintiffs. He argued that these files were vital to understanding Harvard’s “holistic” admissions process.

Consovoy also requested that Harvard not redact student names in the records so that Students for Fair Admissions may analyze whether having an “Asian versus a non-Asian name” affected admissions decisions.

Judge Allison D. Burroughs, who presided over the meeting, said she was disinclined to supply Students for Fair Admissions with all of the files that they requested. She assured the plaintiffs that they would be provided with a “representative sample” of files, but did not specify the exact contents.

The two parties also debated Thursday the duration of the discovery period: Students for Fair Admissions argued for a longer period of 15 months, while Harvard requested an eight-month period. Seth P. Waxman ’73, representing Harvard, said the shorter timeframe would prevent the lawsuit from tying up Admissions Office employees in depositions as the next admissions cycle begins.

Burroughs ruled that discovery would last for 10 to 12 months and capped the number of Harvard employees that the plaintiffs may depose during the discovery period at 10.

The meeting was the latest step in a legal saga that began last November, when the legal defense group Project on Fair Representation launched the lawsuit against Harvard claiming that the University had violated Title VI. The 120-page complaint also detailed the history of the University’s admissions policies, likening Harvard’s cap on Jewish students in the early 20th century to its alleged existing limit on the number of Asian-American students.

Harvard has denied the allegations; the University filed a response categorically denying “each and every allegation, statement, and matter” of the lawsuit in February. And in court on Thursday, Waxman argued that the lawsuit was “created for the avowed and exclusive reason of suing Harvard,” noting that it did not name any individuals as complainants.

Burroughs, for her part, speculated that “the case will ultimately be decided above my pay level” in a higher court.

At the meeting Thursday, parties also addressed the potential intervention of the group Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which seeks to join Harvard’s opposition to the lawsuit and gathered input on the lawsuit from Harvard students in late April. Both Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions plan to file a response to the intervention in the coming weeks, representatives said Thursday.

Edward Blum, the director of Project on Fair Representation, declined to comment after the meeting Thursday. Blum has previously helped fund high-profile cases challenging affirmative action policies, including 2013’s Fisher v. University of Texas.

—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at daphne.thompson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.

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