Court case claims Harvard aware of anti-Asian admission policies

Policy which used to limit number of Jewish students now works against Asians, organization says.


Harvard University
Harvard University

A judicial battle pitting Asian students against Harvard University heated up Friday with allegations that the faculty was aware of anti-Asian flaws in its admissions policy.

The Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) organization sued the prestigious university in 2014 for allegedly preferring whites, blacks and Hispanics at the expense of more deserving Asian students.

On Friday, the SFFA filed documents in a Massachusetts federal court indicating that Harvard had analyzed the admissions policy in 2013.

The study highlighted a policy that was unfavorable to candidates of Asian origin, with academic results that were generally higher than those of other ethnic groups.

It showed that because of the policy, Asians represented only 19 percent of admitted students, whereas they would have been 26 percent based on non-racial admissions criteria and 43 percent on academics alone.

According to the SFFA, Harvard has long been applying a system aimed at maintaining a virtually unalterable proportion of students from different ethnic groups.

The system dates back to the 1920s, when Harvard and other universities were attempting to limit the number of Jewish students, the SFFA says. Today, that policy works against Asians.

While not opposed to the desire for an ethnically diverse campus, the SFFA says that "as other elite universities have shown, increased utilization of non-race-based criteria, such as socioeconomic preferences, can promote diversity about as well as racial preferences."

Harvard, which has also filed new documents in court in support of its policy, said in statement that it "does not discriminate against applicants from any group, including Asian-Americans, whose rate of admission has grown 29 percent over the last decade."

"Harvard will continue to vigorously defend our right, and that of other colleges and universities nationwide, to seek the educational benefits that come from a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions," it said.

The case, which could go to trial within months, illustrates how sensitive the issue of race in admissions remains, after years of battles over affirmative action policies favoring students from ethnic minorities.

In June 2016, the US Supreme Court reaffirmed the legitimacy of these policies, stressing the importance of diversity in the student body.