Justice Department supports Asian-American students suing Harvard over affirmative action
- A group of Asian-American students rejected by Harvard University got a show of support from the Justice Department Thursday over what they allege are discriminatory affirmative action policies relating to the university's admissions criteria, The New York Times reported. The case stands to impact other colleges and universities that consider race in admissions.
- Backed by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions, the students say Harvard unfairly limits the number of qualified Asian-American students it admits in support of applicants of other races who are less qualified.
- The Justice Department contends that Harvard has not done enough to explain the role of race in its admissions process, a position that reflects the Trump administration's efforts to roll back Obama-era policies pushing universities to consider race as a factor in admissions in an effort to diversify their campuses.
The Justice Department's position should come as no surprise to higher education leaders. In July, the Education and Justice Departments issued a joint letter announcing plans to revoke several affirmative action guidance documents put forth by the Obama administration. Such documents, while lacking the force of law, indicate the federal position on the issue, The New York Times noted, and given their removal, institutions using race as an admissions criteria should be prepared for inquiry.
Several briefs have been filed in Harvard's favor. The ACLU of Massachusetts on Thursday issued an official statement in opposition of the anti-affirmative action claim. It said that while the Justice Department's statement of interest in favor of the students does not challenge the precedent of higher education institutions being able to create student bodies as they see fit, it is important to note that the Trump administration has been an advocate of race-blind admissions policies.
Such policies have been criticized as insufficient to address the goal of meaningful diversity in America's higher education institutions, especially given the country's history of racial discrimination.
Harvard University officials have said the data used by Students for Fair Admissions is "incomplete and misleading" and inaccurately represents the institution's "whole-person admissions process." They said Asian-Americans' rate of admission into Harvard has grown 29% over the last 10 years. The class of 2021 is 22.2% Asian-American, according to Harvard's website, while the population of Asian-American students in public elementary and high schools across the U.S. was about 5% in 2013.