Make Admission Files Public, Asian American Students’ Body Tells Harvard in Lawsuit

Harvard responded by saying that the documents are tantamount to trade secrets, which put at stake the secrecy of the university’s admission process.


Students for Fair Admissions, an Asian American students’ group that is suing Harvard over alleged discrimination in its admission process, is demanding that university release to the public its admissions data on hundreds of thousands of applicants, saying that the records show a pattern of discrimination against Asian Americans, the New York Times reported.

In a letter to the court last week, the group said the documents it saw were so compelling that there isn’t any need for a trial and that they would ask the judge to rule summarily in their favor based on documents alone. According to them, the public, which gives more than half a billion dollars a year in federal funding to Harvard, has the right to see the evidence.

“This is an important and closely watched civil rights case,” William S Consovoy, the lawyer for the group, wrote in the letter. “The public has a right to know exactly what is going on at Harvard. Even if this were a commercial issue — as Harvard would like to portray it — the public would have a right to know if the product is defective or if a fraud is being perpetrated.”

Harvard, meanwhile, says that documents are tantamount to trade secrets, which put at stake the secrecy of university’s admission process. According to the institution, as the judge will only use a small fraction of evidence for the decision, only that portion should be released.

In its letter, the university said: “Harvard understands that there is a public interest in this case and that the public has certain — though not unfettered — interests in access to judicial materials. Those interests, however, must be balanced against the need to protect individual privacy and confidential and proprietary information about the admissions process.”

Students for Fair Admissions wrote a rejoinder to Harvard’s admission process being a trade secret: “This case does not involve anything like ‘national security, the formula for Coca-Cola or embarrassing details of private life’.”

The group comprises more than a dozen Asian American students who applied to Harvard and were rejected. In their lawsuit, they say that the university “systematically and unconstitutionally discriminates against Asian American applicants by penalizing their high achievement as a group, while giving preferences to other racial and ethnic minorities.” They call the admission process an “illegal quota system.”

Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “Harvard College does not discriminate against applicants from any group in its admissions processes. We will continue to vigorously defend the right of Harvard, and other universities, to seek the educational benefits that come from a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions.”

Harvard gave the court six years of admissions data on hundreds of thousands of high school students as part of the pretrial discovery process. About 40,000 students apply to Harvard each year.

The case is scheduled for hearing on April 10 to determine whether the documents should be made public.

The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a parallel investigation into the matter based on a 2015 complaint to the Justice Department by a coalition of Asian American organizations.

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