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In Legal Filing, Harvard Denies Allegations of Race-Based Discrimination

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

Harvard has not filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging race-based discrimination in its admissions processes and will meet the plaintiffs of the complaint at a status conference on April 13.

The legal defense group Project on Fair Representation filed the suit against the University last November after soliciting rejected applicants as plaintiffs on its site, “Harvard Not Fair.” Edward Blum, the director of POFR, alleges that Harvard racially balances its incoming classes. He said the University sets “target percentages” for underrepresented minorities and illegal quotas on students of Asian descent.

Harvard filed a response to POFR’s allegations on Feb. 8, denying “each and every allegation, statement, and matter,” particularly the claims of racial discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Harvard’s response to the lawsuit stated that POFR was not entitled to any form of compensation nor a trial by jury.

The response defended Harvard’s “holistic” admissions process, which “considers each applicant’s background and personal characteristics, including—where relevant—the applicant’s race or one among many factors.” It also criticized the lawsuit’s claims concerning Harvard’s historical discrimination against Jewish students as irrelevant to the case.

In its response, the University also confirmed that legacy status “may be one among many factors” considered by admissions committees, but denied POFR’s allegation that this consideration gives a “competitive advantage to mainly white, wealthy applicants.”

The complaint, though instigated by POFR, lists the case’s plaintiff as Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., a coalition partly composed of prospective applicants denied admission to Harvard, according to the lawsuit. The suit also said SFFA also counts a number of high school students and their parents as members.

The group’s website lists as a member at least one Asian-American, first-generation student not offered admission to Harvard College’s class of 2014. That student, according to the lawsuit, graduated first in his or her high school and achieved a score of 36 on the ACT and participated in several other extracurricular activities. Based on the student’s profile, he or she should have been offered admission to the College, according to the lawsuit.

Blum said that the case is currently in the discovery period and that his team is gathering evidence to support their allegations.

“We’re very optimistic. Nothing has really begun yet; that’s really what the purpose of the meeting before the judge in April is all about,” he said, adding that those representing the plaintiff will “of course ask for various documents and data” at that meeting.

While hopeful that the case against Harvard will make it to court, Blum said that a full trial “could be many years away.”

Blum previously helped fund 2013 case Fisher vs. University of Texas, a high-profile suit against affirmative action policies alleging that a white woman had been denied admission to the university because of her race, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruling in favor of the University of Texas.

—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.

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