Federal lawsuits challenge Harvard, UNC over race-based affirmative action

Higher Education
by Laura Edghill
Posted 11/26/14, 08:30 am

Federal lawsuits filed last week against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill allege improper race-based admissions practices at both universities. 

The suits contend race-based affirmative action policies disproportionately discriminate against high-achieving white and Asian-American students. The Harvard lawsuit specifically asserts that the Ivy League university limits the number of Asian-American students it admits every year.

The organization spearheading the lawsuits, The Project on Fair Representation, is a legal defense fund dedicated to supporting litigation and promoting public policy causes that oppose race-based affirmative action. 

While the original intent of affirmative action policies in educational settings was to increase diversity, The Project on Fair Representation argues the Harvard and UNC policies instead artificially manipulate diversity in ways that amount to racial discrimination.

In particular, Harvard’s racial mix has undergone relatively little change in recent decades, even though the percentages of highly qualified African-American, white, Hispanic, and Asian-American applicants have undergone significant fluctuations.

“Harvard’s remarkably stable admissions and enrollment figures over time are the deliberate result of system-wide intentional racial discrimination designed to achieve a predetermined racial balance of its student body,” the lawsuit states.

Both universities defended their admissions policies and claimed they are fully compliant with federal law.

“(T)he university continues to affirm the educational benefits diversity brings to students, as well as the importance of preparing students for a diverse society and assuring a pool of strong state leaders by admitting undergraduates from every background,” said UNC-Chapel Hill spokesman Rick White.

Harvard University’s general counsel, Robert Iuliano, defended its practices as well. “Then and now, the college considers each applicant through an individualized, holistic review having the goal of creating a vibrant academic community that exposes students to a wide-range of differences: background, ideas, experiences, talents and aspirations,” he said.

That “holistic review” is specifically questioned in the lawsuit.

“Statistical evidence reveals that Harvard uses ‘holistic’ admissions to disguise the fact that it holds Asian-Americans to a far higher standard than other students and essentially forces them to compete against each other for admission,” the lawsuit argues.

The lawsuits both conclude that “race-neutral” admissions policies are far more beneficial both to the universities as well as their prospective students. Such policies could include giving greater weight to socioeconomic background, boosting financial aid and scholarships, and overhauling minority recruiting efforts.

Prominent retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a direct beneficiary of race-based affirmative action in the late 1960s, agrees. 

“Who should receive extra consideration from a nation that has a tradition of cheering for the underdog?” he asked in a February column for towhall.com. “My answer to that question may surprise many, but I don’t believe race determines underdog status today. Rather, it is the circumstances of one’s life that should be considered.”

The Project on Fair Restoration said the suits will be the first in a series of legal challenges against colleges around the country. Its goal is to bring an end to the practice of race-based affirmative action in admissions policies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Laura Edghill

Laura is an education correspondent for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and serves as the communications director for her church. Laura resides with her husband and three sons in Clinton Township, Mich. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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