U.S. Justice Dept Supports Asian American Students in Racial Bias Case Against Harvard

The U.S. Department of Justice has submitted a Statement of Interest, saying "Harvard has a responsibility to conduct its admissions policy without racial discrimination by using meaningful admissions criteria that meet lawful requirements."


The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has shown its support to the Asian American students who have filed a case against Harvard University, alleging racial discrimination in the admission process.

The justice department has filed a Statement of Interest in the case, defending the claim that “Harvard intentionally discriminates on the basis of race in admissions,” according to an official statement.

Citing the “compelling evidence” presented by the students and parents behind the suit, that accuses Harvard of racial bias against Asian American candidates, the U.S. government urged the court to grant the plaintiffs the opportunity to prove their claims at trial.

“No American should be denied admission to school because of their race,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in the Statement of Interest.

“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. The Department of Justice has the responsibility to protect the civil rights of the American people. This case is significant because the admissions policies at our colleges and universities are important and must be conducted lawfully,” he added.

Harvard also issued a statement on Aug. 30, saying, “We are deeply disappointed that the Department of Justice has taken the side of Edward Blum and Students for Fair Admissions, recycling the same misleading and hollow arguments that prove nothing more than the emptiness of the case against Harvard.”

Edward Blum is the president of Students for Fair Admissions, an Asian American students’ group that filed the suit against Harvard in 2014 alleging discrimination in its admission process.

The DOJ said that it had started a parallel investigation after it received a complaint by more than 60 Asian American organizations last year. These organizations included the Global Organization of Persons of Indian Origin, National Federation of Indian-American Associations, American Society of Engineers of Indian Origin, and BITS Sindri Alumni Association of North India, according to IANS.

The papers submitted in the court by DOJ said that Harvard admits that it uses race to decide whether to admit certain applicants to the college. It stressed that as per a Supreme Court precedent, Harvard must demonstrate that the usage of race does not result in illegal discrimination, but the institution has failed to do so.

“While Harvard admits to using race in its admissions process, it has failed to provide any meaningful criteria to explain how it weighs race against other factors in a candidate’s application (e.g., test scores and extracurricular activities), and how it limits its use of race to ensure that no illegal discrimination occurs. Supreme Court precedent requires Harvard to provide such an explanation, which it has failed to do in this case,” the government said.

However, Harvard defended the use of applicant’s race in admission process, saying, “Harvard does not discriminate against applicants from any group, and will continue to vigorously defend the legal right of every college and university to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which the Supreme Court has consistently upheld for more than 40 years.”

The government submission also underlined the practice of “personal rating” during admissions and said that it may be biased against Asian Americans, as based merely on a review of the applicant’s file, Harvard rates its applicants based on “subjective” factors such as “likability” and being a “good person” with “human qualities.”

Earlier, Asian Americans groups were up in arms when the review by Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research revealed that, on average, it scores Asian American applicants lower on “personal rating” than applicants from other ethnicity.

Harvard called this interpretation of “personal rating” totally wrong, and said, “ The personal rating reflects a wide range of applicant information, such as personal essays, which Harvard uses to understand the applicant’s full life story, for example, where the student grew up, what opportunities or challenges they faced in their families and communities, and what impact they might have both at Harvard and after they graduate, as citizens and leaders out in the world.”

The DOJ, in its submission, opposed the attempts of “racial balance” in admissions, which it said, have resulted in stable racial demographics in Harvard’s admitted classes from year to year. It also alleged that “Harvard—while using race to make admissions decisions for more than 45 years—has never seriously considered alternative, race-neutral ways to compile a diverse student body, which it is required to do under existing law.”

The trial in this case will start in Boston in October, CNN reported.

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