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Suit Alleges Race-Based Discrimination in Harvard Admissions Practices

Harvard acceptance letters are sealed by members of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid prior to being mailed off.
Harvard acceptance letters are sealed by members of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid prior to being mailed off.
By Theodore R. Delwiche, Crimson Staff Writer

The legal defense group Project on Fair Representation announced a lawsuit Monday morning against Harvard University for “employing racially and ethnically discriminatory policies” in its admissions practices, according to a copy of the filed complaint published by a newly formed offshoot of the group.

“Harvard’s undergraduate admissions policies and procedures have injured and continue to injure Plaintiff’s members by intentionally and improperly discriminating against them on the basis of their race and ethnicity in violation of Title VI,” the complaint reads. The complaint cites as the plaintiff Students for Admissions, Inc., a newly formed nonprofit law group that includes students and parents who wish to challenge the use of race in admissions practices, and calls for a permanent injunction on Harvard’s policies they allege are discriminatory.

The suit comes more than six months after Edward Blum, the director of POFR, launched a site seeking students who claim they were not admitted to Harvard because of their race to participate in a potential lawsuit. Similar sites were also launched for students who were denied admission to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A complaint against UNC was also filed on Monday.

“It is especially disconcerting that public data shows that Harvard has purposefully limited the percentage of Asian-American freshman it admits,” Blum wrote in a press release. “In fact, the number of Asian-Americans Harvard admits today is lower than it was 20-years ago, even though the number of highly qualified Asian-American applicants to Harvard has nearly doubled.”

Blum could not be reached for comment on Monday afternoon.

Blum’s comments mirror findings from a 2013 analysis accompanying an opinion piece published in The New York Times of demographic statistics for Harvard’s enrollment data over nearly two decades that may indicate an Asian “quota.” Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 said in March that Harvard does not use quotas in the admissions process.

University General Counsel Robert W. Iuliano ’83 wrote in a statement that the University’s admissions policies are “fully compliant” with the law.

“In his seminal opinion in Regents of University of California v. Bakke, Justice Powell specially cited to the Harvard College admissions plan in describing a legally sound approach to admissions,” Iuliano wrote Monday afternoon. “Then and now, the College considers each applicant through an individualized, holistic review having the goal of creating a vibrant academic community that exposes students to a wide-range of differences:  background, ideas, experiences, talents and aspirations. The University’s admissions processes remain fully compliant with all legal requirements and are essential to the pedagogical objectives that underlie Harvard’s educational mission.”

The 120-page complaint against Harvard claims that the University uses “racial balancing” in its admissions decisions, even when allegedly “race-neutral alternatives can achieve diversity.” The complaint also detailed a long history of Harvard’s admissions policies, including the widely discussed discrimination of Jewish applicants in the early 20th century and the pushing for a holistic admissions process.

In the past, Blum has helped fund high-profile cases, including the 2013 Fisher vs. University of Texas, challenging affirmative action policies at school. Whereas Abigail Fisher was a white female, the complaint filed Monday focuses on discrimination against Asian-American students.

Students for Fair Admissions has a least one member who was denied admissions to the Harvard College Class of 2018, according to the complaint. That individual is allegedly an Asian-American first generation student who graduated top from his or her high school and achieved score of 36 on the ACT, while participating in several other extracurricular activities.

That same applicant enrolled at a top 20 school, as outlined by U.S. News and World report, that does not preference race or ethnicity in admissions decisions and “intends to seek transfer to Harvard when it ceases the use of race or ethnicity as admissions preference.”

—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @trdelwic.

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