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Very Real

Asian Americans Attack Affirmative Action, Not Legacy, At Harvard

Asian Americans are complaining that affirmative action have kept them out of elite schools.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt

A group of Asian American students, some of whom didn’t get into Harvard, are placing the blame on the school’s admissions policies. The group claims admissions favor other minorities while holding their demographic to higher standards than other groups. Notably, they haven’t said a word about legacy admissions, which is funny because Harvard’s incoming class of 2021 was one-thirds legacy, CNBC reports.

Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., a nonprofit membership group who “believe that racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional,” brought the suit in 2014, reigniting the national conversation on affirmative action.

In a March 30 letter to Judge Allison D. Burroughs, the group called for Harvard to make public admissions data on hundreds of thousands of applicants, CNN reports, believing that doing so will reveal a pattern of discrimination against Asian Americans. The group believes that Harvard intentionally limits the number of Asian American applicants who are admitted each year, in an effort to maintain a racial and ethnic “balance.

Is this an attack on people of color? According to 2017 analysis by The New York Times, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at top universities than they were 35 years ago, despite any affirmative action policies schools may have in place. Systemic racism needs more attention in education, not less.

But William S. Consovoy, an attorney for SFFA, characterized the lawsuit as a “civil rights case” in his letter to the court. “Even if this were a commercial issue — as Harvard would like to portray it — the public would have a right to know if the product is defective or if a fraud is being perpetrated.”

The case is being spearheaded by Edward Blum, founder of the Project on Fair Representation. Blum has sought to dismantle affirmative action policies in the past, having sued the University of Texas at Austin in 2008 on behalf of Abigail Fisher, a young white student who claimed that she was denied entry to the school due to racial discrimination. But she didn’t make the cut based on merit, ProPublica’s investigation found. That legal battle came to an end in 2016, after the U.S. Supreme Court voted 4-3, in favor of the school.

Harvard denied discriminating against any group, NBC News reports, but is opposed to making private information regarding students public.

“Harvard understands that there is a public interest in this case and that the public has certain — though not unfettered — interests in access to judicial materials,” the university said. “Those interests, however, must be balanced against the need to protect individual privacy and confidential and proprietary information about the admissions process.”

The Trump administration has also jumped into the fray, with the Justice Department filing a notice of interest on Friday and encouraging the judge overseeing to not keep the records private, Newsweek reports. The administration vowed to look at college admissions in the fall, according to The New York Times.

Judge Burroughs has scheduled a hearing on April 10, during which both sides will present their arguments on whether the documents should be made public, The New York Times reports. A trial date is set for next January, though Harvard has said that it is prepared to go to trial as soon as October.

If anyone has a leg up on the competition, it’s the students who have connections in their blood. The Chronicle of Higher Education’s 2011 study found that legacy applicants — applicants whose parents or other family members attended the university to which they are applying — were around 23.3 percent more likely to gain admission into highly selective colleges compared to students who have the same qualifications but not the familial connections. If the student had a parent who attended the university, that number jumped to 45.1%. Princeton sociologists found that legacy status provided a boost equivalent to 160 point in SAT scores out of 1600. A group of students from 13 elite colleges recently mounted a challenge to legacy admission, the Atlantic reports. But that’s no lawsuit — not yet, at least.

So why do you think some are going after affirmative action policies, instead of legacy advantage?

(Photo: Harvard Business school building in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Via Getty Images)