Asian-American Group Says Harvard Discriminates

A coalition of more than 60 Asian-American groups filed a federal discrimination action against Harvard University, claiming racial bias in undergraduate admissions. The administrative complaint follows the filing of a lawsuit in federal court against Harvard in November.

The administrative complaint filed Friday with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights claims Asian-American students with almost perfect college entrance-exam scores, high grade-point averages, academic awards and leadership positions are more likely to be rejected than similar applicants of other races.

Harvard denies discriminating.

The complaint, also filed with the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, reflects longstanding concern among academically high-performing Asian-Americans that they’re held to a higher admissions standard at elite U.S. colleges.

While Harvard officials hadn’t seen the complaint, Robert Iuliano, the school’s general counsel, said in a statement that the college’s admissions policies comply fully with the law and are essential to the school’s mission.

In November, Students for Fair Admissions Inc., a group which said it represents unidentified college applicants, filed a federal lawsuit in Boston against Harvard’s governing board, alleging that the school illegally limited admissions of Asian-Americans. The same group also filed a federal suit against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in November. In its answer filed March 24 in federal court, the university “expressly denied” that it discriminates “in any aspect of UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate admissions.”

Asian-Americans represent 5.6 percent of the U.S. population. At Harvard, Asian-Americans made up 21 percent of the freshman class admitted in March, more than any other group other than whites. In 2006, the percentage was 17.7. Harvard this year accepted 5.3 percent of all applicants, second to Stanford University in its selectivity, the schools said.

Seth Waxman, Paul Wolfson, Debo P. Adegbile and Felicia Ellsworth of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP are listed on the filings as representing Harvard. According to documents in the UNC case, Michael Scudder of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP is representing the school, along with the North Carolina’s attorney general’s office.

The Harvard case is Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1:14-cv-14176-ADB, District of Massachusetts (Boston). The UNC case is Students For Fair Admissions Inc. v. University of North Carolina, 1:14-cv-00954, U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina (Greensboro).

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