Education Department Dismisses Admissions Complaint

More than 60 Asian-American groups had accused Harvard of race-based discrimination

UPDATED: July 8, 2015, at 10:25 a.m.

The U.S. Department of Education has dismissed a complaint filed against Harvard this spring by 64 Asian-American groups accusing the University of discriminating based on race in its admissions practices.

The complaint, filed in May, accused the University of unfairly denying admission to highly qualified Asian-American students while admitting similar applicants of other races. Complainants called for an in-depth investigation of Harvard’s use of race in its admissions processes.

The complaint was the most recent public challenge to the College’s race-based affirmative action policies, which were repeatedly under fire this past academic year but administrators argue are crucial to supporting campus diversity. The Department of Education decided to dismiss the complaint, according to a statement, because it is similar to an ongoing and separate federal lawsuit filed against Harvard.

A lawsuit filed last November by Students for Fair Admissions, an anti-affirmative action group, also alleged that Harvard admissions practices discriminate against Asian-American applicants. That case has not yet been resolved, and lawyers representing Harvard have filed a motion to delay it until a verdict is reached on Fisher v. University of Texas, another affirmative action case that the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review a second time.

The same man—Edward Blum, the director of Project on Fair Representation, a group that opposes race-based affirmative action policies—is behind the cases against both Harvard and the University of Texas.

Harvard has repeatedly denied allegations that its admissions policies are discriminatory.

University Vice President and General Counsel Robert W. Iuliano ’83 defended Harvard’s practice in a May statement, writing that Harvard’s “approach to admissions is fully lawful.”

About 21 percent of Harvard’s incoming freshman class is Asian-American.

The 64 groups filed their May complaint against Harvard with both the federal Departments of Education and Justice. While the Education Department has dismissed the complaint, the Department of Justice has not told complainants that it will do the same, according to Yukong Zhao, one of the organizers behind the complaint.

Still, Zhao said he is “very disappointed” by the Education Department’s move to dismiss the complaint. Zhao said he hopes Harvard will be investigated by the Department of Justice and added that the groups may pursue an expanded complaint to include other Ivy League colleges.

“We are considering expanding the scope of our complaint,” Zhao said, arguing that “there are lots of other Ivy League schools discriminating against Asians” without their own pending discrimination lawsuits.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at jalincunningham@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

—Staff writer Melanie Y. Fu can be reached at melanie.fu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MelanieYFu.

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