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The Education Department is on the verge of handing down the results of its two-year investigation into whether Harvard illegally limits the number of Asian-Americans admitted to the College, Education Department officials said this week.
A spokesperson for the department's Office of Civil Rights, which is conducting the inquiry, said that the government had completed the examination and is in the process of writing up its findings. The spokesperson, Paul H. Wood, would not say what investigators had found.
Possible action could range from a finding of no wrongdoing to a request that the Justice Department file suit against Harvard for civil rights violations. Wood said the Education Department would announce its decision by next month.
The "compliance review" of the College's undergraduate admissions policies began in June, 1988, and is intended to determine if Harvard has violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits federally funded institutions from discriminating on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion.
Critics of Harvard's admissions policies have said that quotas keep the admittance rate for Asian-Americans below that for whites. According to a 1988 admissions office statement, 13.3 percent of Asian-Americans had been admitted in the previous decade, compared to 17 percent of whites.
Harvard has denied the existence of quotas, saying that the admissions rate for Asian-Americans is lower than that for whites because Asians are less frequently athletes or children of alumni.
Similar federal investigations are underway at the University of California campuses at Los Angeles and at Berkeley.
Waiting for Results
Some legislators have criticized the Education Department for not concluding its investigation more promptly.
Last June, Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) threatened to introduce legislation abolishing the Office of Civil Rights if it did not show signs of improvement. And Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) concluded in a letter to a ranking senator last August that the office is "incompetent or dragging its feet."
"[The investigation] has been dragged out to a point where it has become extremely unfair," said Gary L. Curran, Rohrabacher's chief of staff. "No one should have to go through that."
Tired of waiting, Rohrabacher attempted to begin his own hearings on the alleged quotas last year, soliciting information from Asian-Americans who believed they had been the subjects of discrimination in college admissions. He discontinued the effort when it met with a cool response, Curran said.
Wood said that the compliance review, which was originally scheduled to be completed last fall, has taken more than two years because of unforseen complications. He would not elaborate on the causes of the delay.
Sources familiar with the investigation said last week that political infighting within the Office of Civil Rights was responsible for the setbacks.
Liberals within the office fear that a finding against Harvard would cast doubt on college affirmative action policies designed to create ethnically diverse student bodies, sources said.
Conservatives like Rohrabacher have often pointed to the alleged quotas at Harvard in arguing that race-based admissions decisions hold back qualified candidates.
Paul Igasaki, a lobbyist for the San Francisco-based Japanese American Citizens League, said he feared that a government attack on Harvard admissions policies would damage the cause of affirmative action, which often helps Asian-Americans.
"If they make a strong statement that Harvard's program is discriminating because of its consideration of race, there will be a chilling effect," he said.
Igasaki said that a report critical of Harvard would be especially damaging because the College's affirmative action program was cited as a model for admissions in the 1978 Bakke decision--the landmark Supreme Court ruling outlawing quotas.
This article is reprinted from Wednesday's Crimson.
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