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DOJ Sides with Plaintiffs Alleging Harvard Discriminates against Asians

Bo Guagua, son of fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai, walks offstage after receiving his masters degree in public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government during the 361st Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts May 24, 2012. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a statement of interest on Thursday in defense of the plaintiffs suing Harvard University for allegedly discriminating against Asian applicants.

DOJ attorneys argued there is substantial evidence to support the plaintiffs’ claim that Harvard unfairly, and illegally, disadvantages Asian applicants by consistently attributing to them a lower “personal rating,” in an effort to detract from their academic performance and test scores, which in isolation would qualify them for admission.

“The evidence, moreover, shows that Harvard provides no meaningful criteria to cabin its use of race; uses a vague ‘personal rating’ that harms Asian-American applicants’ chances for admission and may be infected with racial bias; engages in unlawful racial balancing; and has never seriously considered race-neutral alternatives in its more than 45 years of using race to make admissions decisions,” the attorneys wrote.

The lawsuit against Harvard, which has gained substantial national media attention in recent months, was filed in 2014 by Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit comprising Asian students rejected from Harvard and other interested parties.

While Harvard has argued that its “personal rating” score is determined independent of race and takes into account a number of social factors, plaintiffs have questioned why Asians consistently score lower on the metric than their counterparts of other races.

The DOJ suggested the discrepancy is likely the result of a racial bias that holds Asians are less “likeable.”

“The vague and elusory ‘personal rating’ may be infected with racial bias against Asian Americans,” the attorneys wrote.

The DOJ further questioned Harvard’s “intentional and unexplained use of race” in making admissions decisions — a measure that the university has defended as part of its effort to ensure class diversity.

In its statement of interest, the DOJ urged the presiding Massachusetts judge not to grant Harvard’s request for dismissal before the case goes to trial in October.

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