Indian, Asian students lose discrimination case against Harvard

Harvard Business School
Brick building at Harvard Business School, in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo credit: Envato

Asian group to appeal against ruling clearing Harvard of imposing “racial penalty’’ in Supreme Court.

A group of Asian students, including Indians have lost a case accusing the Harvard University of discriminating against them in admissions in its attempts to have a diverse student body.

A US federal appeals court in Boston Thursday upheld a judgment by a lower court rejecting claims by an anti-affirmative action group that accused the Ivy League University of imposing a “racial penalty” on Asian Americans.

Edward Blum, president of Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), that was joined by four Indian organizations, said he was disappointed but that “our hope is not lost” and they would take their battle to the US Supreme Court.

“This lawsuit is now on track to go up to the US Supreme Court where we will ask the justices to end these unfair and unconstitutional race-based admissions policies at Harvard and all colleges and universities,” Blum stated.

Two Boston court judges concluded that Harvard’s admissions process passes legal muster and meets requirements previously created by the Supreme Court.

OPINION: Asian American groups opposing minority college admissions are riding a tiger (February 10, 2019)

“The issue before us is whether Harvard’s limited use of race in its admissions process in order to achieve diversity in the period in question is consistent with the requirements of Supreme Court precedent. There was no error,” the judges wrote.

The group’s 2014 lawsuit alleges that Harvard’s admissions officers use a subjective “personal rating” to discriminate against Asian Americans who apply to the school.

Using six years of admissions data, the group found that Asian American applicants had the best academic records but received the lowest scores on the personal rating.

The group’s analysis found that Harvard accepted Asian Americans at lower rates than any other racial group, while giving preference to Black and Hispanic students with lower grades.

The lawsuit also alleged that Harvard works to keep a consistent racial breakdown among new students, which the organization says amounts to illegal “racial balancing.”

President Donald Trump’s administration sided with the Asians and filed a brief supporting their case.

OPINION: We can spell but we do not count? Asian and Indian Americans are scapegoated for the failing education system (June 1, 2019)

Harvard’s admissions policy applies only to students who are citizens or residents of the US as universities use a different set of criteria in selecting foreign students.

SFFA was joined by Global Organization of Persons of Indian Origin, National Federation of Indian American Associations, American Society of Engineers of India Origin, and BIT Sindri Alumni Association of North India in bringing the case.

Harvard College, which is the university institution for undergraduates and was directly involved in the case, has an Indian American dean, Rakesh Khurana.

In their judgment, the judges cited the report of a committee headed by him to look at the admissions issue.

The judges quoted the Khurana committee report: “Today, Harvard College graduates ‘are founding and running global companies in technology, retail, finance, and healthcare, among others’.

“It concluded that if Harvard does not provide its students with the opportunity to engage with other students in a diverse undergraduate environment, ‘(its) students likely would be constrained in their pursuit of excellence, and (Harvard) would be remiss in failing to provide them with the skills they need to flourish after graduation’.”

READ: Asian American coalition complain against Yale, Brown, Dartmouth for admissions discrimination (May 23, 2016)

During the trial in the lower court, it was revealed that Harvard rated applicants on academic, extracurricular, personal and athletic criteria and also considered race and ethnicity.

An academic expert who analyzed Harvard’s admissions records on behalf of SFFA found that it consistently rated Asians lower on “positive personality,” and as less “widely respected”.

An unrelated study by a Princeton University academic found that to gain admission to elite universities, Asian students had to score 140 points more than whites in the SAT, a common entrance test.

Harvard President Larry Bacow welcomed the judgment and said: “The consideration of race, alongside many other factors, helps us achieve our goal of creating a student body that enriches the education of every student.”

One of the groups filing a brief supporting the university was the Harvard South Asian Association, according to court papers.

Along with the Harvard case, the Virginia-based SFFA is also suing to rid racial considerations at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and at the University of Texas at Austin.


Justice Department seeks volunteers to investigate discrimination complaint against Harvard (August 4, 2017)

Education Dept. dismissing racial discrimination complaint against Harvard is setback for meritorious Indian American students (July 9, 2015)

Asian American coalition complain against Yale, Brown, Dartmouth for admissions discrimination (May 23, 2016)

If your son is not in Harvard University, is it because he is Asian American? (May 18, 2015 )

For Asian American students battling discrimination in college admissions, now something more startling: ‘race-based grading’ (July 21, 2014)

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