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Harvard’s lawyers want evidence of institutional anti-Semitism perpetrated nearly a century ago to be barred from the upcoming trial in a lawsuit that accuses the University of present-day discrimination against Asian Americans in the admissions process.
Students for Fair Admissions, the plaintiff in the ongoing lawsuit, planned to bring at least a dozen exhibits related to past anti-Semitic discrimination at Harvard. Harvard’s lawyers argued in a Monday filing that the exhibits — which date back to the first half of the twentieth century — have “nothing to do with” allegations that the College illegally discriminates against Asian-American applicants in the twenty-first century.
“SFFA’s focus on ancient history is an obvious attempt to distract the Court from the dearth of evidence showing intentional discrimination in this case,” the lawyers wrote. “But SFFA should not be permitted to confuse the issues and waste the Court’s time by presenting evidence that, as this Court has recognized, has nothing to do with its claims.”
Institutional discrimination against Jewish applicants to Harvard took place under the administration of former University President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, who introduced an early system of “holistic” admissions at the College in the 1920s that took into account non-academic factors.
As part of his admissions reforms, Lowell attempted to institute quotas limiting Jewish admit rates to the College. Lowell’s attempt failed, but Harvard’s new admissions process was still used to restrict the number of Jewish students at the school without the use of hard quotas.
In the intervening decades, the College’s admissions process — while remaining holistic — has undergone numerous changes, most notably under former University President Derek C. Bok, who instituted trailblazing affirmative action policies in the seventies.
SFFA has argued Harvard’s current system of holistic admissions has inherited the discriminatory tendencies of its almost century-old precursor. In the modern day, SFFA has alleged, Harvard’s consideration of race in admissions unfairly limits admission of Asian-American students to the College, as it once did to Jewish students.
Harvard has held that its race-conscious admissions policy is necessary to achieve diversity in the student body, and that the Supreme Court has upheld the legality of similar policies.
Harvard representatives addressed historical discrimination in the University’s admissions process in a “Frequently Asked Questions” document published over the summer.
“These unfortunate events from 100 years ago are a dark chapter in Harvard’s history,” the document reads. “For many years, we have been committed to evaluating the whole person and we consider each applicant’s unique background and experiences, alongside grades and test scores, to find applicants of exceptional ability and character.”
In less than a month, Harvard and SFFA will meet in federal court in an attempt to settle the dispute, with or without SFFA’s evidence of historical discrimination. Over the past several days, the two parties have debated what evidence and which witnesses should be permitted in court.
On Monday, Harvard asked District Court Judge Allison D. Burroughs to allow current College students and alumni to testify at the trial, though SFFA’s lawyers argued that such testimony would be irrelevant.
For its part, SFFA asked Burroughs Monday to prohibit Harvard from calling Edward Blum — the president of SFFA — as a witness, arguing that “he has no relevant information to offer at this trial.”
The trial is set to begin on Oct. 15.
—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @delanofranklin_.
—Staff writer Samuel W. Zwickel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @samuel_zwickel.
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