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Harvard Business School has dropped a rule barring white and Asian students from a summer program after two groups opposed to race-based admissions threatened to take legal action against Harvard.
The Summer Venture in Management Program (SVMP)—which brings incoming college seniors to Allston for a week in June to study under Business School faculty—will no longer restrict participation to racial and ethnic minorities.
The American Civil Rights Institute and the Center for Equal Opportunity alleged in a letter to Harvard officials last March that the Business School program’s race-based restriction violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin.
Business School spokesperson David R. Lampe said that the threat of legal action prompted Business School administrators, admissions officers and Harvard lawyers to launch a review of the program’s race-based requirements.
The March complaint came too late in the academic year for Harvard to admit white and Asian students to the program last summer, according to Lampe.
Business School admissions officer Juan F. Jimenez, who is in charge of the SVMP, said that dropping the race criterion would strengthen the 20 year-old program. “It will broaden the base of what diversity stands for,” he said.
Last year, 550 students sought 85 slots in the program, and Jimenez forecasted that applications for this summer would surge.
The program will continue to focus its efforts on students “who might not have been in a position to consider attending business school,” Lampe said.
But in addition to targeting racial and ethnic minorities, the program will also accept students who are the first in their families to attend college or who come from rural backgrounds, according to Lampe.
“We still have a commitment to minorities, and that is reflected in the criteria for this program,” Lampe said.
Alliah D. Agostini ’04, the only Harvard undergraduate to participate in SVMP last summer, said she was concerned that the program could be diverted from its original mission of reaching out to minority groups.
She said that socioeconomically disadvantaged students did not face the same obstacles as members of racial and ethnic minorities.
“While one can change [one’s] economic status, there’s no changing your race and how others may view you because of it,” Agostini wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson.
The Business School’s move to alter the eligibility requirements makes Harvard the latest university to change race-based admissions policies under pressure from the Institute and the Center.
The two California-based activist groups filed complaints with nearly 100 universities that maintained racially-exclusive programs, according to Roger B. Clegg, the Center’s general counsel.
While the groups opted not to take legal action against Harvard last spring, they have filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education against MIT, Washington University in St. Louis and three other colleges.
Last February, MIT dropped its minorities-only requirement for a summer program designed to increase math and science skills among high school students and incoming college first-years.
“We are not trying to end any of these programs,” said Clegg. “We just want them to be open to all students.”
According to Clegg, the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling in the University of Michigan affirmative action cases stepped up pressure on other institutions to review their race-based policies.
“We think it’s even clearer now that you cannot have a racially-exclusive program,” Clegg said.
But Langdell Professor of Law Martha A. Field ’65 said that the court’s ruling did not necessarily require the Business School program to drop its race-based criterion.
“The Supreme Court has not passed a decision on this question,” Field said.
The University’s Office of the General Counsel did not return requests for comment.
—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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