Education Department Dismisses Harvard Asian-American Discrimination Complaint

The U.S. Education Department dismissed a complaint against Harvard University alleging discrimination against Asian-American applicants in undergraduate admissions because a similar case is pending in federal court.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights rejected the complaint filed in May by more than 60 Asian-American groups, according to a letter from the agency obtained by Bloomberg. OCR confirmed that the complaint was dismissed.

“We are very disappointed, but we won’t stop the fight,” Yukong Zhao, who helped organize the groups filing the complaint, said in an interview. “We will continue to pursue equal rights for Asian-American students.”

Harvard is committed to diversity, spokeswoman Anna Cowenhoven said by e-mail. Twenty-one percent of students admitted as Harvard undergraduates are Asian-American, an increase from 17.6 percent a decade ago, she said.

“As part of its effort to build a diverse class, Harvard College has demonstrated a strong record of recruiting and admitting Asian-American students,” Cowenhoven said.

The coalition said Asian-American students are held to higher standards because of their race and that students with almost perfect entrance-exam scores, top 1 percent grade-point averages, academic awards and leadership positions were more likely to be rejected than similar applicants of other races.

Students for Fair Admissions Inc., a separate group representing unidentified college applicants, filed a lawsuit against Harvard administrators in U.S. District Court in Boston in November alleging the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based school limited admissions of Asian-Americans. Harvard denied the claims, saying its admissions policies comply fully with the law.

Harvard College accepted a record-low 5.3 percent of more than 37,000 applications for a seat in this year’s freshman class.

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