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Harvard Rejects Allegations of Discrimination in New Court Filings

Harvard College Office of Admissions and Financial Aid
The Harvard College Office of Admissions and Financial Aid located at 86 Brattle Street.

Lawyers for Harvard again rejected allegations that the College discriminates against Asian Americans in a new court filing Friday as part of an ongoing lawsuit brought years earlier by an anti-affirmative action advocacy group.

Harvard’s lawyers rebutted claims made by plaintiff Students for Fair Admissions in previous court documents, writing that the group failed to make “a serious effort” to prove their side of the argument. SFFA brought its suit — which may decide the fate of affirmative action in America if it reaches the Supreme Court — in 2014.

SFFA’s filings were “a 45-page press release, devoted to presenting a misleading narrative that is manifestly subject to genuine dispute,” Harvard attorneys wrote.

SFFA’s earlier arguments included charges that Asian American applicants receive systematically lower scores for personal qualities and that an internal Harvard review had unearthed a disadvantage for Asian Americans in the admissions process.

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University lawyers harshly criticized Students for Fair Admissions’ statistical evidence, calling it “deeply flawed.” The lawyers asserted that Students for Fair Admissions’ statistical expert, Duke University Professor Peter S. Arcidiacono, used unsound modeling techniques and cherry-picked data.

Harvard further denounced Students for Fair Admissions’ portrayal of the Office of Institutional Research’s review of the College’s admissions policies.

“The work done by OIR employees was not intended to address whether Asian-American applicants were experiencing discrimination and did not answer that question,” Harvard’s filing reads.

The attorneys argued that quotes pulled from admissions officers’ reviews of application files were also selectively chosen. In a final rebuttal, the University’s lawyers wrote that discrimination against Jewish students in the 1920s is “irrelevant” to this case.

In the remaining portion of the document, Harvard’s lawyers reiterated arguments that the University does not aim for a particular racial balance, that race is one of many factors Harvard weighs in admissions decisions, and that it is necessary to consider race in admissions to achieve diversity and fulfill the University’s educational mission.

Documents and data made public as part of the lawsuit have so far allowed outsiders to glean a number of details about the College’s historically secretive admissions process — including tidbits about the controversial legacy admissions process, the fabled “Z-list,” and how admissions officers rank applicants’ personal qualities. More information will likely bubble to the surface in coming months if the case goes to trial.

Both Harvard and SFFA have sought to convince Judge Allison D. Burroughs of the U.S. District Court in Boston that she should decide the case by summary judgment — both sides hope she’ll agree their respective arguments and evidence are so compelling that a full-blown trial is unnecessary.

Experts, though, say that outcome is unlikely. Unless Burroughs moves to dismiss it, the case is slated to go to trial on Oct. 15.

"Students for Fair Admissions looks forward to presenting our case at trial in October at which time the remaining redacted data, memos, emails and depositions Harvard refuses to disclose will be made public during testimony," President of Students for Fair Admissions Edward Blum wrote in an emailed statement.

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

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