Harvard Accused of Discriminating Against Asian-Americans


16 October, 2018

A United States federal court in Boston, Massachusetts, is hearing a discrimination case against the oldest university in the country.

The nonprofit organization Students for Fair Admissions first took legal action against Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2014. It says the school discriminates against Asian-Americans seeking admission.

The legal action accuses Harvard of holding Asian-American students to higher requirements than students of other races. It says the university uses "racial balancing" policies that unlawfully limit how many Asian American students it accepts.

The organization argues that race should not be considered when deciding which students to accept. The use of "racial classifications and preferences" is "unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional," the group says on its website.

It accuses the school of discriminating against Asian-Americans seeking admission by giving them a "personal rating."

Lawyers for Students for Fair Admissions said these ratings seek to measure personal qualities such as "courage" and "likeability." Such qualities are measured subjectively, leaving the process open to discrimination, the lawyers argued.

People sit on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
People sit on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The group says it has more than 20,000 members, including students, parents and others.

Harvard denies using discriminatory practices in its admissions process. The Ivy League school says it uses race as one of many things it considers in admissions decisions. It believes considering race can help create a mixed community "where students from all walks of life" can learn with and from each other.

Education and employment policies that consider race are known as affirmative action. Supporters say these policies can help make up for historic, widespread racial discrimination of minority groups. Critics have long argued that affirmative action is unfair to white people and Asian-Americans who outperform other groups on academic measures.

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard several cases about affirmative action in recent years.

The Supreme Court's most recent decision on the subject approved limited use of race in the admission process. That 2016 decision came from a lawsuit against the University of Texas that accused the school of discriminating against white students.

Harvard leaders have said the school only considers race in the way earlier Supreme Court cases have ruled is permitted.

The university has also noted that its share of Asian-Americans has grown in recent years, reaching 23 percent of the latest first year class.

Harvard reports that 15.2 percent of its most recent first year class is African-American. Hispanic or Latino students make up 12.3 percent, while 1.9 percent are Native American. That leaves a remaining group of mainly white students at under 50 percent.

President Donald Trump's administration supports the argument against Harvard.

In July, the Trump administration announced it was withdrawing government guidelines meant to increase student diversity at U.S. schools. The guidelines were developed during the presidency of Barack Obama. The guidance stated that schools could consider race in admissions decisions as long as the policies did not violate Supreme Court decisions.

The U.S. Justice Department said it was withdrawing the guidelines because it considered them "unnecessary or outdated." Civil rights groups criticized the move and some university officials said they would continue their efforts toward mixed student populations as before.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

classification n. the process of putting people or things into groups by their type, size, etc, or one of these groups

preference n. the feeling of liking something or someone more than another person or thing

courage n. the ability to do something without being afraid

subjective adj. influenced by someone else's beliefs or feelings instead of facts

affirmative action n. the practice of improving the educational and job opportunities of members of groups that have not been treated fairly in the past because of their race, sex, etc.