Harvard University’s admissions policy has illegally discriminated Asian-American applicants, the United States Department of Justice stated last week. In a statement issued, the Justice Department said Harvard’s admission process “significantly disadvantages” Asian-American students compared to other racial groups.
“No American should be denied admission to school because of their race,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “As a recipient of taxpayer dollars, Harvard has a responsibility to conduct its admissions policy without racial discrimination by using meaningful admissions criteria that meet lawful requirements.”
A group, Students for Fair Admissions, filed a lawsuit in 2014 claiming that Harvard uses “racial balancing” as part of its admissions formula and that the practice is illegal. Harvard has challenged those claims, saying the group is misinterpreting data it released about how it selects students.
Students for Fair Admission said in a June court filing, Asian-Americans would account for more than 43 percent of the students admitted to Harvard, rather than the 18.7 percent.
In its court filings, Harvard accuses the group of painting “a dangerously inaccurate” picture of its admissions process, saying it also considers personal essays and teacher recommendations.
“Harvard College does not discriminate against applications from any group in its admissions process,” the universitysaid in a statement, vowing to “vigorously defend the right of Harvard and other universities to seek the education benefits that come from a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions.”
Justice Department lawyers said the group has presented “compelling evidence” that Harvard’s factoring of race into admitting students does discriminate against Asian-Americans. Furthermore, they argue that Harvard agrees not to discriminate on the basis of race as a condition of receiving millions of dollars in annual taxpayer funding.
Furthermore, the Justice Department said the government has a vested interested in the case because Harvard receives millions of dollars in taxpayer funding on the condition it won’t discriminate based on ethnicity.
Harvard uses a “personal rating” that includes subjective factors including “likability” and whether someone is a “good person” with “human qualities,” according to court documents. The school has admitted that, on average, it has ranked Asian-American applications lower on these qualities, the Justice Department charges in its court filing.
The Justice Department lawyers said Harvard has not provided any meaningful criteria to explain how it weighs race against the other factors in a application, a requirement under Supreme Court of the United States precedent.
In June, both sides filed motions for summary judgment, seeking to head off a potential trial scheduled for October in a Massachusetts federal court. The Justice Department’s motion asks the court to deny Harvard’s motion for summary judgement.
“While the DOJ’s brief does not challenge Supreme Court precedent granting universities the right to freely select their own student body … the Trump administration has advocated for ‘race blind’ policies, which Harvard and virtually all other universities have found are demonstrably insufficient to achieve meaningful diversity, given the reality of historic and continuing racial discrimination in this country,” the ACLU said in a statement.