The United States Department of Education is dismissing a claim that Harvard shows bias against Asian-American applicants because a similar lawsuit has already been filed in federal court. The education department’s Office for Civil Rights reportedly told Bloomberg Business that it’s dismissing the claim without evaluating its merit because of a similar lawsuit filed in federal district court in Boston in November 2014.
In May 2015, a coalition of more than 60 organizations filed a complaint with the federal government, alleging that Harvard holds Asian-Americans to higher standards than other ethnic groups, according to On Campus, a public radio initiative produced in Boston.
They also complained the university uses racial quotas, lumping all Asian-Americans, including Indian, Chinese and Pakistani, into a single, broad category and asked the federal government to investigate.
“We feel the Department of Education and the Department of Justice should have access to Harvard’s admissions records,” Swan Lee, who helped to organize the coalition, was quoted as saying. Civil rights activists suggest the complaint is a backdoor attack on affirmative action, and Harvard says its admissions philosophy is “holistic,” and it complies with the law.
The group behind that lawsuit, Students for Fair Admissions Inc., is also responsible for another case against the University of North Carolina, according to On Campus.
Meanwhile, Harvard and the University of North Carolina (UNC) moved this week to delay lawsuits by a conservative group alleging that the schools unfairly limit the number of Asian-American students admitted.
The universities have cited last month’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to revisit a white student’s lawsuit against the University of Texas that claims consideration of an applicant’s race violates the Constitution. The schools said the lawsuits against them should be suspended until the Supreme Court rules on the Texas dispute, likely by June 2016.
For decades, U.S. colleges and universities have adopted policies known as “affirmative action,” in which admissions officers use race as one of many screening criteria to bring greater racial diversity to campus. Some white students, and now Asian Americans, contend such policies discriminate against them. Students for Fair Admissions says Asian Americans are held to a higher standard to restrict their numbers.
Harvard and UNC deny any discrimination and say their practices are based on decades-old Supreme Court precedent. The Blum challengers want to overturn that 1978 precedent, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which forbade quotas but permitted colleges to use race as one factor among many to obtain a diverse class. That ruling has primarily benefited blacks and Hispanics.
The three cases, all initiated by Blum and his associates, constitute the strongest attack in years on affirmative action, which has survived challenges at the Supreme Court by tight votes. The universities being sued are fighting to maintain such diversity policies.
For the lawsuits on behalf of Asian-American students against Harvard and the University of North Carolina, Blum set up websites encouraging students denied admission to join his cause.
Advocates for African-American and other minority students contend they are the “real targets” of Blum’s efforts and have asked judges to let them join in the two cases. A Boston-based U.S. District Court judge last month rejected their motion to intervene. Lawyers for the minority students are appealing. A separate motion to intervene in the North Carolina case, made on June 29, has yet to be acted on.