Harvard reportedly under DOJ investigation for 'discriminating against Asian-Americans'

US courts have long debated the controversial issue of affirmative action

Alexandra Wilts
Tuesday 21 November 2017 23:22
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 Students enter the Admissions Building on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Photo by Glen Cooper/Getty Images)
Students enter the Admissions Building on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Photo by Glen Cooper/Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s Justice Department is said to to be investigating the use of race in Harvard University’s admissions policies and has accused the world-renowned Ivy League school of not cooperating with the probe.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the DOJ is looking into allegations that formed the basis for a 2014 lawsuit, which claimed the university’s admissions practices discriminated against Asian-Americans and violated US civil rights law. The suit is still pending.

In a 17 November letter, the department wrote that Harvard was being probed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 due to allegations that it was using race as a deciding factor in its admissions decisions, according to the Journal.

Title VI bars discrimination on the basis of race, colour and national origin for organizations that receive federal funding.

The DOJ also said Harvard had failed to meet a 2 November deadline to show documents related to the university's admission procedures and policies. If it does not hand over documents by 1 December, the department said it “may file a lawsuit” to force Harvard to comply.

Harvard has reportedly provided the documents being sought by the DOJ to the plaintiffs in the suit.

“The Department of Justice takes seriously any potential violation of an individual’s civil and constitutional rights,” DOJ spokesman Devin O’Malley said.

A Harvard spokesperson said in a statement: “As we have repeatedly made clear to the Department of Justice, the University will certainly comply with its obligations under Title VI. In the process, we have an obligation to protect the confidentiality of student and applicant files and other highly sensitive records, and we have been seeking to engage the Department of Justice in the best means of doing so.”

US courts have long debated the controversial issue of affirmative action. In 2016, the US Supreme Court ruled in Fisher v University of Texas that admissions officials may continue to consider race as one factor among many in ensuring a diverse student body.

However, at the same time, the high court did warn other universities that not all affirmative action programmes would be considered constitutional.

Harvard has argued in the past that its admissions policies on race have aligned with legal precedent set over the past 40 years by the Supreme Court.

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