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Two national organizations are demanding that a Harvard Business School (HBS) summer program for incoming college seniors change its policy of admitting only African-American, Hispanic and American Indian students.
Representatives from the American Civil Rights Institute and the Center for Equal Opportunity, two conservative advocacy groups, sent a letter to Harvard’s general counsel last Thursday. They requested that the HBS Summer Venture in Management Program (SVMP)—a one-week academic seminar in mid-June to introduce 60 to 80 seniors to life at HBS—end what they referred to as its “racially-exclusive” admissions policy.
Edward Blum, director of legal affairs at the Civil Rights Institute, said the two organizations have sent similar letters to about 30 other universities in recent weeks. These efforts led MIT last month to open one of its summer programs—Minority Introduction to Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Science (MITES)—to non-minorities for the first time.
Blum said that if the University does begin admitting students to the program on the basis of financial need and merit instead of race, the American Civil Rights Institute will file a formal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights on the grounds that the program violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
University and HBS administrators, including University General Counsel Robert W. Iuliano and University President Lawrence H. Summers, declined comment over the weekend, saying that they had not yet received the letter.
According to the SVMP website, HBS selects incoming seniors to participate in the program based on their academic and leadership qualities. The website says these students “are immersed in a rigorous and stimulating classroom environment that mirrors the learning environment of Harvard’s MBA Program.”
While participation in SVMP does not guarantee admission to HBS, Managing Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid Brit K. Dewey said in a press release that involvement with the program puts students at an advantage when it comes time to apply to business school.
“Since we select students very carefully for SVMP, we want to ensure that their experience in and out of the classroom is all that it can be. We really hope that many of the students we meet will decide to apply to the MBA program, and that SVMP—an intimate view of the HBS experience and of our community—will be a key factor in their decision-making process,” Dewey said.
Guillermo Amezcua, a student at DePauw University who participated in SVMP last summer, said he believes the program’s admissions policies should not be changed.
“Would my experience have been different if students of
all backgrounds were involved? I can’t reply without having my response accompanied with great uncertainty so I do not know if making the proposed change would make the program better or worse,” Amezcua wrote in an e-mail. “ I do know this; my experience was immensely rewarding and [I] see no problems with the way things have been.”
The deadline for admission to this year’s SVMP, which will be held June 14-20, is April 30.
Although Blum would not disclose a copy of his letter, he said it states that the organizations will give Harvard about three weeks to change its SVMP policy before they take further action.
Roger Clegg, general counsel for the Center for Equal Opportunity who co-signed the letter, stressed that the organizations are not asking Harvard to shut down SVMP altogether.
“We’re not asking them to end the program, but to open it up to students regardless of race and ethnicity,” Clegg said.
Among the other university leaders to whom the two groups have sent letters, several have replied asking for time to investigate the programs in question, Blum said.
MIT changed its six-week summer MITES program to admit both minority and non-minority high school seniors after the Center for Equal Opportunity filed a formal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.
Princeton University also changed its policy of admitting only minorities to its Junior Summer Institute, a six-week program for college juniors run by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International affairs.
Blum said the University of Virginia, Virginia Polytechnic and State University and Iowa State University have also recently changed the admissions policies of similar programs.
And while the letter comes one month after Harvard filed its friend-of-the-court brief supporting affirmative action admissions policies at the University of Michigan, Blum said that this case involved a very different issue—restricting admissions to certain races, not considering race as one of many factors in admissions.
“The Supreme Court case has nothing to do with the kind of program Harvard is offering here,” Blum said. “[SVMP] is racially exclusive, whereas the University of Michigan’s admissions program is a racial preference question.”
—Staff writer Jenifer L. Steinhardt can be reached at email@example.com.
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