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The Education Department will soon begin the second stage of its review of Harvard admissions policies, marking the federal government's first attempt to determine whether university admissions offices discriminate against Asian-Americans.
Education officials have completed the first round of the investigation, called a "compliance review," in Cambridge. A similar investigation is underway at the University of California at Los Angeles.
The next step at Harvard, says Admissions Officer Susie S. Chao '86, calls for review of specific data about Asian-American admissions. The range of this inquiry, projected to begin sometime this spring, is the subject of continuing negotiations between Harvard and the investigating Office of Civil Rights in the Ed Department.
If the government finds Harvard in violation of Title VI of U.S. code, which prohibits federally funded institutions from discriminating on the basis of race, creed or religion, the University could lose all federal aid, which includes almost $2 million in financial aid and much more in research grants.
While Chao says she "is not really sure" why Harvard is being investigated, Education Department spokesperson Gary L. Curran says reviews can be triggered by complaints from individuals, media reports, internal government studies and other sources. The department does not comment on ongoing investigations, but officials say the process usually takes between six months and a year to complete.
Attacks Appear in Press
Since 1985, several articles have appeared in the national press attacking Asian-American admissions policies at public universities in the West and selective Eastern institutions, particularly Harvard. Critics, like Berkeley professor L.C. Wang and MIT graduate Arthur Hu, have charged that Asian-Americans are admitted at a substantially lower rate here than whites and other minorities and that Asian-Americans have to be more academically qualified than others to be admitted.
They cite as evidence recent Harvard admissions data, which shows that Asian-Americans are admitted at only 80 percent the rate of admission for white applicants. In addition, critics say that in 1982 and 1984, while the number of admitted Asian-American students did not increase, the number of applicants increased substantially.
Wang also says that although SAT scores for Asian-American and white applicants are about the same, scores for admitted Asian-Americans are between 40 to 60 points higher than those of admitted whites.
Harvard has repeatedly denied charges of quotas or discrimination. "There is no worry because we all know we are doing the right thing," Chao says, "Some people assumed us guilty before proven innocent."
In a January, 1988 statement, Chao and Dean of Admissions William R. Fitzsimmons '67 addressed the disparity between white and Asian admission rates, which have averaged 17.0 percent and 13.3 percent respectively over the last 10 years. The statement attributed the difference to the small number of Asian-Americans who are children of alumni and who are varsity athletes, both of which are recruited applicant pools.
The statement also said that while "Asian-Americans are slightly stronger than whites on academic criteria, they are slightly less strong on extracurricular criteria."
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