Is Harvard racist? Asian-Americans claim unfair Harvard admission quotas

More than 60 Chinese, Indian, Korean, and Pakistani groups have filed a joint federal complaint agains Harvard and other Ivy League schools. 

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)
People tour on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., in 2012. An alliance of Asian American groups on Friday filed a federal complaint against Harvard University, saying that school and other Ivy League institutions are using racial quotas to admit students other than high-scoring Asians.

An alliance of Asian American groups on Friday filed a federal complaint against Harvard University, saying that school and other Ivy League institutions are using racial quotas to admit students other than high-scoring Asians.

More than 60 Chinese, Indian, Korean and Pakistani groups came together for the complaint, which was filed with the civil rights offices at the Justice and Education departments. They are calling for an investigation and say these schools should stop using racial quotas or racial balancing in admission.

"We are seeking equal treatment regardless of race," said Chunyan Li, a professor and civil rights activist, who said they'd rather universities use income rather than race in affirmative action policies.

Harvard says its approach to admissions has been found to be "fully compliant with federal law." Officials also say the number of Asian students admitted increased from 17.6 percent to 21 percent over the last decade.

"We will vigorously defend the right of Harvard, and other universities, to continue to seek the educational benefits that come from a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions," said Robert Iuliano, Harvard's general counsel.

Iuliano pointed to the Supreme Court's landmark 1978 decision in Regents of University of California v. Bakke, which upheld affirmative action and specifically cited Harvard's admissions plan as a "legally sound approach" to admissions.

Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were sued last year by "Students for Fair Admission," a nonprofit group based in Austin, Texas, made up of recently rejected applicants who argue that affirmative action policies should be banned at colleges across the nation.

The federal suits allege Harvard and UNC rely on race-based affirmative action policies that impact admissions of high-achieving white and Asian American students. The Harvard lawsuit also contends that the Ivy League university specifically limits the number of Asian Americans it admits each year.

As The Christian Science Monitor reported:

The lawsuit filed against Harvard cites an Asian-American student who was denied admission despite being valedictorian of a competitive high school, achieving a perfect ACT score and a perfect score of 800 on two of the SAT II subject exams, and participating in numerous extracurricular and volunteer activities. The applicant, the lawsuit states, was "denied the opportunity to compete for admission to Harvard on equal footing with other applicants" due to his race.

The suit cites statistical evidence to claim that Harvard holds Asian applicants to a "far higher standard than other students" and that Harvard uses "racial classifications to engage in the same brand of invidious discrimination against Asian Americans that it formerly used to limit the number of Jewish students in its student body."

Yukong Zhao, who organized the groups for Friday's complaint, challenged Harvard to open its admission books to prove that Asians were not purposefully being put at a disadvantage. "We want to help this country move forward," Zhao said.

Other Asian American groups and officials also released statements supporting affirmative action, including two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. "Neither of us believes that any racial or ethnic group should be subjected to quotas," Commissioners Michael Yaki and Karen Narasaki said. "Nor do we believe that test scores alone entitle anyone to admission at Harvard. Students are more than their test scores and grades."

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