Harvard’s Admission Policies Under U.S. Justice Department’s Scanner

The investigation comes following a civil suit stating that the university discriminates against Asian Americans.


The U.S. Justice Department has said the Harvard University is not cooperating with it in a case concerning alleged race conscious admissions and that it is out of compliance with federal civil rights law. The investigation comes from a pending civil lawsuit lodged in 2014 stating that Harvard offers limited admissions to Asian American students.

Two letters dated Nov. 17 sent to Harvard by Justice Department officials said the university had not provided the requested documents despite a Nov. 2 deadline, the Wall Street Journal reported. It added that the university’s attorney had tried to “side-step Harvard’s Title VI obligations.”

“The Department of Justice takes seriously any potential violation of an individual’s civil and constitutional rights, but we will not comment at this time,” spokesman Devin O’Malley said in an email quoted in media reports.

The officials argue that as the university receives federal funding under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it must comply with its request. Title VI, a part of the Civil Rights Act, prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in programs that receive federal funding. If the university is found in violation of Civil Rights Act, it could lose federal funding.

The civil lawsuit against Harvard was brought by an advocacy group called Students for Fair Admissions, on behalf of 64 Asian American groups. The lawsuit claimed that the university intentionally discriminates against Asian American students, thereby violating the federal civil rights law.

Edward Blum, the president of Students for Fair Admissions, gave a written statement on Nov. 21 to media houses, saying that the investigation is a “welcome development” as Harvard’s Asian quotas and “the overall racial balancing that follows have been ignored by federal agencies for too long.”

The university will comply with its obligations under Title VI, Harvard spokeswoman Anna Cowenhoven said in a statement on Nov. 21. “We have an obligation to protect the confidentiality of student and applicant files and other highly sensitive records, and we have been seeking to engage the Department of Justice in the best means of doing so.”

Academic affirmative action, which favors minorities in admissions to ensure diverse academic atmosphere, is a controversial issue in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court , in June 2016, had upheld a University of Texas policy that allows race to be a factor in admissions. The ruling was seen as a greenlight for race conscious policies for public university admissions. Conservatives argue that race conscious policies hurt whites and Asian Americans.

According to the Ivy League university, 2,056 students were given admission this March for the fall freshman classes out of 39,506 applicants. Among those given admissions, 22.2 percent were Asian American, 14.6 percent were African American, 11.6 percent were Latino and 1.9 percent were Native American students.

The university has been given time until Dec. 1 to hand over the documents on its admissions policies.

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