The nonprofit pro bono legal group Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice has filed a motion to intervene in support of Harvard in an ongoing lawsuit that accuses the University of discriminating based on race in its undergraduate admissions practices.
The motion, dated April 29, cites as its movants nine prospective students intending to apply to Harvard and five current students at the College, all of whom “have present or prospective interests in living and studying in a racially diverse environment.” The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice gathered input from Harvard students at an off-the-record meeting in late April before filing.
The legal defense group Project on Fair Representation launched the lawsuit against Harvard last November with a 120-page complaint alleging that Harvard sets “target percentages” for underrepresented minorities and illegal quotas on students of Asian descent in its undergraduate admissions processes.
In its proposal to intervene, however, the Lawyers’ Committee contends that Harvard should remain free to address the underrepresentation of Native Americans, African-Americans, and Latinos in its admissions practices. The motion defends the consideration of diversity in assembling a student body, arguing that reducing the population of underrepresented minorities would “reduce the exposure of all Harvard students...to peers with different racial or ethnic experiences from their own.”
Because of its “unique reputation” and “unique financial aid program,” the motion continues, Harvard is “particularly well-suited to advancing the goal of racial and ethnic diversity.” Moreover, the motion argues that were Harvard to be barred from considering race in its application process, other universities would likely follow suit, with “catastrophic” effects for underrepresented minorities applying to higher education.
The motion does not unequivocally endorse Harvard’s admissions policies, however. The group argues that the College’s consideration of legacy status, standardized test scores, and early action applications “may have a negative impact on Native American, African American, and Latino students.”
The Lawyers’ Committee wrote in the motion that its movants, some of whom are current College students, can provide personal experiences with race and ethnicity on campus that Harvard, as an institution, cannot. The motion argues that Harvard may be unwilling to offend “alumni, faculty, the academic community, or the public” by acknowledging its past history of discrimination or addressing ongoing problems with race relations on campus.
While the University may be nominally affected by changes in affirmative action policy, current and prospective students would suffer personally and “should not be required to entrust their interests” to Harvard’s legal defense, according to the motion.
At a meeting in court last week between Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions—the plaintiff in the lawsuit—a judge determined that the case would include a 10 to 12 month discovery period.
Both Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions plan to file a response to the intervention in the coming weeks, representatives from both parties said at the meeting last Thursday.
Representatives from the Lawyers’ Committee and several student movants declined to comment on the filing.
—Staff writer Daphne C. Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @daphnectho.