Asian Americans at Center of Lawsuit Against Harvard

A lawsuit alleging that Harvard University’s admissions policy is biased against Asian Americans went to trial on Monday in Boston, with a decision expected to be made in three weeks by U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs.

The trial stems from a lawsuit filed against Harvard by Arlington, Va.-based Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) nearly four years ago and has implications for affirmative action policies at universities across the country.

The plaintiffs, who have the support of the U.S. Department of Justice, argue that Asian American applicants, despite having the strongest academic records of any ethnic group, are admitted at the lowest rate because of low “personal ratings.” Harvard denies any wrongdoing and Asian American civil rights groups argue that Asians are being used as a tool by opponents of affirmative action.

When the lawsuit was filed, SFFA said in a statement, “The Trump Administration in July withdrew Obama-era guidance that gave colleges a wink and a nod to racially discriminate. This means that colleges like Harvard that use racial preferences in admissions will receive more legal scrutiny …

“Between 2011 and 2016, the Obama Education Department issued seven notices advising colleges how they may legally promote racial diversity. The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination by institutions receiving federal funds. But the Supreme Court has held that colleges may consider race in admissions as long it isn’t the ‘decisive’ factor. Quotas and point systems are forbidden.

“The Obama department advised colleges to consider race as part of what it called an ‘individualized, holistic review of all applicants.’ Colleges also were urged to consider race-neutral alternatives, but that they need not be adopted if they are ‘unworkable.’ In other words, it’s the thought that counts. Many colleges took the guidance as cover to discriminate.

“Harvard’s practices will be the first to be examined under this new spotlight. Students for Fair Admissions has sued the school for discriminating against Asian American applicants and unconstitutionally favoring other minority groups …

“Consider Harvard’s ‘holistic’ admissions review. Applicants are rated on a scale of one to six on academics, extracurricular activities, athletics and highly subjective ‘personal’ criteria. Admissions officers also assign applicants an overall score …

“Asian Americans boasted higher extracurricular and academic ratings than all other racial groups. They also received higher scores from alumni interviewers. But they were rated disproportionately lower on personal criteria. Only about one in five Asian Americans in the top 10 percent of academic performers received a ‘2’ personal rating. Yet blacks and Hispanics with much lower grades and SAT scores received high personal ratings.”

Asian American Coalition for Education