Defending Affirmative Action

"A federal lawsuit challenging Harvard University's affirmative action policies is about to go to trial, with the Justice Department backing claims of plaintiffs who say the university is discriminating against Asian-American applicants," according to Inside Higher Ed.

"At one level, the case is only about Harvard, but the university's policies are similar to those of many other institutions with competitive admissions -- so a defeat for the university could set legal precedents far beyond Cambridge.

Against that backdrop, Drew Faust, in her last month as Harvard's president, on Tuesday sent the campus a message pledging that the university would vigorously defend its policies. (Lawrence Bacow, who will succeed Faust, has also pledged to defend the university's diversity efforts.)

Faust's message didn't break new legal ground in laying out Harvard's argument. But it suggested concerns that some of the data the plaintiffs will present may raise questions about the university's policies in people's minds. The plaintiffs have repeatedly cited the high SAT scores and grades of Asian-American applicants who are rejected to suggest that they must be victims of discrimination.

Those who oppose the consideration of race in admissions have picked up this theme, noting that elite universities that do not consider race in admissions end up with larger Asian-American shares of their classes than do institutions such as Harvard, at which 22.7 percent of incoming students last year were Asian. (At the University of California, Berkeley, last fall, 39 percent of new students were Asian-American.)

In her message to the campus, Faust warned the following of the plaintiffs' arguments: 'These claims will rely on misleading, selectively presented data taken out of context. Their intent is to question the integrity of the undergraduate admissions process and to advance a divisive agenda.'

While Harvard and other universities sometimes avoid comments on ongoing legal battles, Faust indicated that would not be the case with this trial.

'As this case generates widespread attention and comment, Harvard will react swiftly and thoughtfully to defend diversity as the source of our strength and our excellence -- and to affirm the integrity of our admissions process. A diverse student body enables us to enrich, to educate, and to challenge one another,' she wrote."

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Publication Date: 6/14/2018

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