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Ivy League schools rally to Harvard’s side to fight admissions lawsuit claiming anti-Asian discrimination

More than a dozen elite US institutions say it is essential to consider race and ethnicity as part of the admissions process – but supporters of the lawsuit say the treatment of Asians parallels the exclusion of Jews in the 1920s

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 4:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 10:22pm

Yale, Brown and Princeton universities were among more than a dozen elite schools that endorsed Harvard’s practice of considering race as a piece of its admissions process.

In a court filing on Monday, the schools said it was essential to consider race in the admissions process to attain “diverse student bodies”.

They urged the judge to uphold an approach that includes a student’s socioeconomic background, academic merit, parental education level and leadership skills, along with ethnicity and race.

The filing came in a friend-of-the court brief in which the schools back Harvard in a 2014 lawsuit by Students for Fair Admissions, which claims Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants.

The case is scheduled for a trial in October as the judge weighs whether the case should proceed or be decided in one’s side favour.

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“A decision by this court forbidding all consideration of race in the admissions process would compromise (the schools’) efforts to attain diverse student bodies,” a 20-page brief said.

The filing came from seven other members of the Ivy League – Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale – along with Case Western, Duke, Emory, George Washington, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Washington University.

None of them is party to the Harvard lawsuit.

Harvard has asked the judge to toss the lawsuit, saying admissions data and other evidence doesn’t show any purposeful discrimination or “racial balancing.” The plaintiffs “cherry-picked” documents to form a “misleading narrative” about the school’s admissions process, the school said.

Students for Fair Admissions, backed by Edward Blum, a long-time crusader against affirmative action, says Harvard gives low “personal rating” scores to Asian American applicants with high academic marks in order to illegally shape its class.

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In its filing Monday, the other schools said they seek “a diversity of perspectives, experiences, goals, backgrounds, races, ethnicities and interests” in the admissions process. “Doing so significantly deepens the students’ educational experience” and “encourages students to question their own assumptions, to test received truths and to appreciate the complexity of the modern world,” they wrote.

They also argue that the US Supreme Court, while outlawing a quota system for admissions, has allowed colleges to take an “individualised and holistic” approach. Citing a 2013 high court case, the schools said they seek to evaluate each prospective student “as an individual and not in a way that makes an applicant’s race or ethnicity the defining feature of his or her application.”

Others also weighed in on Monday.

A group of Harvard alumni, students and applicants, including seven of Asian heritage, backed the school’s admission practices and said that the number of minority students would drop dramatically if race were no longer a factor.

Nicole Ochi, an Asian Americans Advancing Justice lawyer working on the group’s behalf, said in a call with reporters that there are too many applicants with perfect test scores and grade-point-averages to consider only academic merit.

“Test scores, grades – they’re not objective,” she said in a press call. “The consideration of race in Harvard’s admission process benefits everyone.”

The American Council on Education, along with three dozen other higher-education groups, also asked the judge not to interfere with any university’s “narrowly tailored” use of race.

“Each university’s unique mission and context may call for the need to evaluate differently certain characteristics, experiences and backgrounds of various prospective students in order to achieve the university’s educational mission,” the groups wrote.

But attorneys for a group of conservative academics in the National Association of Scholars cited “uncanny parallels” between Harvard’s handling of Asian-American applicants and its use of a quota system to exclude Jews in the 1920s.

“This record is replete with evidence of a de facto Asian quota startlingly similar to the one that Harvard once imposed on Jews; of impermissible racial proportionality, or ‘balancing,’ in admissions; and of biased views about the personal characteristics of Asian applicants,” said the association, which is based in New York.