Trump administration backs Asian-American students in race case against Harvard University

Harvard University: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Trump administration has sided with Asian-American students in a lawsuit alleging Harvard University has failed to demonstrate it does not discriminate on the basis of race.

In a court filing on Thursday, the Justice Department sided with a group suing the elite university over its consideration of race in its admission policy. Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) filed a lawsuit against Harvard in 2014 alleging the university discriminates against Asian-American applicants by setting caps on the number of Asian-American students. The filing marks another instance of the administration’s efforts to encourage more race-neutral admission practices.

The Justice Department claimed that the Ivy League school “acknowledges that it voluntarily uses race as a factor in deciding whether to offer certain young adults admission to, and substantial educational benefits of, its elite institution”.

The administration also accused Harvard of failing “to carry its demanding burden to show that its use of race does not inflict unlawful racial discrimination to Asian Americans”.

Harvard University has denied admissions bias in the ongoing case filed by the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) group. Last month, the university filed court documents calling the suit “deeply flawed” and provided rebuttals to the allegations labelling them a “misleading narrative”.

SFFA president, Edward Blum, was also behind the landmark US Supreme Court case Fisher v University of Texas at Austin, in which Abby Fischer, a white woman, claimed she was not accepted to the University of Texas while black students with lower grades and test scores were admitted. The US Supreme Court ruled in the university’s favour.

Mr Blum applauded the Justice Department’s recent court filing.

“We look forward to having the gravely troubling evidence that Harvard continues to keep redacted disclosed to the American public in the near future,” he said.

In a statement, Harvard said it was disappointed by the Justice Department’s decision to side with a group that is “recycling the same misleading and hollow arguments”.

“Harvard does not discriminate against applicants from any group, and will continue to vigorously defend the legal right of every college and university to consider race as one factor among many in college admissions, which the Supreme Court has consistently upheld for more than 40 years,“ the university said.

It added: ”Colleges and universities must have the freedom and flexibility to create the diverse communities that are vital to the learning experience of every student”.

The recent court filing was in response to the university’s motion for summary judgment, or its request to have the lawsuit dismissed before trial.

Last month, the Trump administration reversed Obama-era guidelines promoting diversity in universities. The US Supreme Court has previously ruled that universities may consider race as a factor in its admissions process to promote diversity.

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