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News Analysis: Anticipated Filings Could Preview Harvard Admissions Trial

Harvard’s Office of Admissions and Financial Aid lies on Brattle Street.
Harvard’s Office of Admissions and Financial Aid lies on Brattle Street. By Mirac M. Suzgun
By Delano R. Franklin and Samuel W. Zwickel, Crimson Staff Writers

Setting the stage for an October trial, hundreds of pages of analysis related to Harvard’s admissions practices are set to be made public Friday as part of a lawsuit accusing the College of discriminating against Asian American applicants, according to recent court filings.

The documents—to be submitted in a series of briefings in federal court by lawyers for the University and anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions—could preview the arguments and evidence each side would present in a trial. The filings are likely to contain statistical analysis of admissions data and detailed discussion of Harvard’s highly competitive—and often secretive—admissions process.

The anticipated filings will be the latest development in an ongoing lawsuit that anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions brought against Harvard in Nov. 2014. The organization has accused the University of illegally setting a quota for the number of Asian American applicants it accepts.

Over the past several months, attorneys from both sides have been conferring with experts and compiling evidence to present to Judge Allison D. Burroughs of the U.S. District Court in Boston. In the coming weeks, Burroughs will determine whether the court ought to decide all or part of the case with summary judgement—that is, without a trial.

Judge Burroughs, however, has stated this outcome is unlikely and has already scheduled a trial for Oct. 15.

The case, which some experts say may reach the Supreme Court, could have broad repercussions for the future of race-conscious admissions policies at colleges and universities across the country.

Students for Fair Admissions alleges the College’s practices violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, while Harvard maintains it does not discriminate and that its evaluation of applicants “considers the whole person.”

In advance of the Friday filing deadline, University President Drew G. Faust went a step further in an email to students Tuesday, criticizing Students for Fair Admissions for targeting Harvard’s “commitment to diversity.”

“Students for Fair Admissions…will seek to paint an unfamiliar and inaccurate image of our community and our admissions processes,” Faust wrote. “These claims will rely on misleading, selectively presented data taken out of context. Their intent is to question the integrity of the undergraduate admissions process and to advance a divisive agenda.”

Faust’s email referred students to a Harvard website providing an overview of the case, a summary of the College’s admissions process, and certain admissions statistics.

Students for Fair Admissions President Edward Blum declined to directly comment in response to Faust’s email, though he said the organization’s filings will lay out its position.

“The documents we will soon file with the court speak for themselves,” Blum wrote in an email Wednesday.

Friday is also the deadline for either party to request that certain evidence be filed under seal as the court considers summary judgment.

While the parties have met and agreed that certain evidence may be tentatively filed under seal and not made public, the confidential status of other documents remains in dispute, and Burroughs has set a schedule to settle the confidentiality disagreement over the next several weeks.

Burroughs has also ordered that summary filings must include a statement enumerating facts they consider to be “truly undisputed” as part of their Friday submissions, as she says she hopes information regarding the case is “presented to the court as efficiently as possible” in light of a large number of expected pages.

The filings will come roughly two months after an April 10 hearing in which attorneys from Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions met in court to discuss the handling of confidential materials as the case moves forward.

At the hearing, Burroughs ruled that a portion of more than 90,000 pages of documents related to the College’s admissions process—which include the files of individuals applicants—will become public as the lawsuit proceeds.

Following the Friday filing deadline, outside parties may file amicus briefs in support of potential summary judgement by July 30. Amicus brief in opposition are due Aug. 30.

—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @delanofranklin_.

—Staff writer Samuel W. Zwickel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @samuel_zwickel.

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