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Lawsuit accusing Harvard of bias against Asian-Americans heads to trial

Harvard is accused of discriminating against Asian-American applicants by using a subjective personal rating system of candidates that is biased against them

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 12:39pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 10:51pm

Harvard, the oldest university in the United States, must go to trial to defend a lawsuit claiming it discriminates against Asian-American applicants.

District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston on Friday rejected duelling motions by Harvard and a non-profit group suing the Ivy League university to rule in their favour ahead of a non-jury trial set to begin on October 15.

The ruling came after the US Justice Department, which has been investigating Harvard for potential civil rights violations over its affirmative action policy, in August threw its support behind the 2014 lawsuit by Students for Fair Admissions Inc (SFFA).

The group, headed by prominent anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum, has alleged that Harvard’s admissions process, which factors in race, significantly disadvantages Asian-Americans compared with other groups.

After Harvard, Yale is now being investigated for discriminating against Asian-American applicants

Burroughs wrote that rather than presenting her with undisputed facts and evidence that would allow her to rule without overseeing a trial, Harvard and SFFA had filed motions that were “essentially mirror images of one another.”

“Whether SFFA may prove its intentional discrimination claim requires a close review of the conflicting expert testimony, the available documents, and the testimony of the admissions office employees in the context of a trial,” Burroughs wrote.

Harvard in a statement said it does not discriminate against Asian-Americans and looked forward to defending itself at trial.

Blum declined to comment.

The US Supreme Court has ruled that universities may use affirmative action to help minority applicants get into college. Conservatives have said such programmes can hurt whites as well as Asian-Americans.

In court papers, SFFA claimed an Asian-American male applicant with a 25 per cent chance of admission would have a 35 per cent chance if he were white, 75 per cent chance if he were Hispanic and 95 per cent chance if he were black.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard has denied that it uses a quota system or has engaged in “racial balancing.” It has criticised the lawsuit as an effort to attack the right of colleges to consider race as an admissions factor.

After US President Donald Trump, a Republican, took office last year, the Justice Department began investigating whether Harvard’s policies are discriminatory because they limit Asian-Americans’ acceptance.

Yale University on Wednesday announced that the Justice Department was also investigating it over similar claims. The university denied discriminating against Asian-Americans.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg