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Admissions Lawsuit Stalled, Harvard Disputes Discovery Period

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 Daphne C. Thompson, Crimson Staff Writer

While the lawsuit accusing Harvard of practicing race-based discrimination in its admissions processes has halted pending the return of another affirmative action case to the U.S. Supreme Court, Harvard and the lawsuit’s plaintiffs have proposed competing visions of what the interim discovery period should look like.

Earlier this month, Judge Allison D. Burroughs partially granted Harvard’s request to delay the lawsuit until the Supreme Court reviews Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a 2013 case challenging affirmative action policies, for a second time next term.

Harvard has argued that the lawsuit, which alleges that the University sets “target percentages” for underrepresented minorities and illegal quotas on students of Asian descent in its undergraduate admissions processes, will depend heavily on the outcome of Fisher v. Texas.

By Burroughs’s order, the lawsuit will pause until Fisher v. Texas is resolved. But Harvard was also ordered to provide database information from its two most recent admissions cycles to the plaintiffs, along with other general information concerning the College’s admissions policies and procedures.

In two proposals filed Friday, Harvard and the lawsuit’s plaintiffs—the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions—found little common ground regarding the type and extent of investigation that should be allowed during the interim discovery period.

In its proposal, Students for Fair Admissions requested more extensive materials from Harvard, arguing that limiting discovery would further stall the case. The group also proposed to include third-party testimonies—including those from alumni interviewers, former Harvard employees, and high school officials—in discovery, a request denounced by Harvard in its proposal as excessively burdensome on those parties.

Additionally, the plaintiffs alleged that Harvard has repeatedly failed to produce documents promptly and requested regular status conferences “to keep a vigilant eye on this case to ensure that any ordered discovery proceeds in a timely and diligent fashion.”

Edward Blum, the director of the group behind the lawsuit who is also behind the Fisher case, declined to comment.

Harvard, in its proposal also filed Friday, disputed the plaintiffs’ requests, arguing that the College “has produced more than twelve hundred pages of documents” per the court’s orders and that expanding the discovery period’s scope “would render any stay essentially meaningless.”

According to the proposal, Harvard’s director of admissions, Marlyn E. McGrath ’70-’73, has also completed a deposition, and the deposition of a former admissions officer is two-thirds finished. Given these released documents and depositions, Harvard argued that the discovery exchanged to this point should be considered more than sufficient.

Harvard also suggested that the plaintiffs be ordered to produce documents “regarding, among other things, its organizational structure, its corporate filings, its correspondence with the IRS” and “most importantly,” documents identifying the individuals they say they represent.

According to Students for Fair Admissions’s initial complaint, the group is “a coalition of prospective applicants and applicants to higher education institutions who were denied admission to higher education institutions, their parents, and other individuals.” At least one member of the group is a first generation Asian-American student who graduated at the top of his or her class and was denied admission to Harvard’s Class of 2018.

Burroughs said she will issue another ruling outlining the terms of the discovery period after reviewing both proposals.

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