Activists: Harvard Discriminates Against Asian-American Students in Admissions Process

Tomorrow, representatives from over 40 Asian American organizations will hold a press conference in The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to complain against Harvard University for allegedly discriminating against Asian-Americans in its undergraduate admissions process. A corresponding press conference will also be held by a political action committee called The Orange Club (TOC) and several Southern California-based Asian-American organizations at the University Community Park in Irvine at 10 a.m the same day.


A complaint issued by a coalition of Asian American organizations–addressed to the Office for Civil Rights of U.S. Department of Education and Civil Rights Division of U.S. Department of Justice–claims that Harvard College has used (1) intentional discrimination against Asian Americans; (2) racial rebalancing, a de facto racial quota; and (3) race well beyond merely a 'plus' factor.” The coalition says Harvard has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs receiving federal financial assistance.

The authors of these complaints want the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to launch investigations into Harvard's admissions process. If there is proof that Harvard uses racial quotas, they want Harvard to cease its “use of race in the admissions process” and “disclose the qualifications of its applicant pool, at least at a level comparable to such data disclosed by other public universities.”

According to enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of Asian-Americans who enrolled at Harvard decreased by over 50 percent over the last two decades even though the Asian-American population nearly doubled between 1992 and 2011. At the same time, Asian-American enrollment at the California Institute of Technology, which is also highly selective, has grown proportionally with the Asian-American population growth.

Research by Thomas J. Espenshade, Senior Scholar and Sociology professor at Princeton University, suggests that if race wasn't considered in university admissions, Asian applicants would be the “biggest winners.” He writes:

Asian candidates are at a disadvantage in admission compared to their white, African-American, and Hispanic counterpart. Removing this disadvantage at the same time preferences for African Americans and Hispanics are eliminated results in a significant gain in the acceptance rate for Asian students–from 17.6 percent to 23.4 percent. Asians, who comprised 29.5 percent of total applicants in 1997, would make up 31.5 percent of accepted students in the simulation, compared with an actual proportion of 23.7 percent.

Harvard, however, insists that its admissions process remains “holistic.”

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