New York, Aug 31 (IANS) The Donald Trump administration is supporting Asian Americans who are suing the Ivy League Harvard University alleging it racially discriminates against them in admissions.
“No American should be denied admission to school because of their race,” the Justice Department said in a document filed in a Massachusetts court on Thursday to back Asian Americans.
“As a recipient of taxpayer dollars, Harvard has a responsibility to conduct its admissions policy without racial discrimination by using meaningful admissions criteria that meet lawful requirements,” said the department headed Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The suit was filed in 2014 by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) on behalf of high-performing Asian students – a category that includes Indians – who allege that Harvard discriminates against them on the basis of their race. The case is scheduled to be taken up for trial in October.
Either way it is decided, the case is expected to have wide repercussions for educational institutions across the US and impact affirmative action programmes that are in theory geared to help certain disadvantaged minorities.
Harvard College, the undergraduate institution of the university that is at the center of the suit, is headed by an Indian American, Rakesh Khurana.
The Justice Department also said in a statement Thursday that it had separately begun an investigation into Harvard’s admissions process last year based upon a complaint made to it by more than 60 Asian-American organizations.
The organisations that complained to the Justice Department include the Global Organization of Persons of Indian Origin, National Federation of Indian-American Associations, American Society of Engineers of Indian Origin, and BITS Sindri Alumni Association of North India.
While under US court rulings universities can use broad criteria like economic status to ensure diversity in admissions, making race the sole factor in a system similar to caste-based reservations in India is illegal.
Although the programmes for diversity at many universities are presented as progressive efforts to help historically oppressed minorities like African Americans and Latinos, it is the Whites who actually benefit at the expense of the Asians.
A study by a Princeton University academic found that to gain admission to elite universities, Asian-American students had to score 140 points more than whites in the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), which is a common entrance exam used by most universities.
The Justice Department said that “the students and parents who brought this (SFFA) suit have presented compelling evidence that Harvard’s use of race unlawfully discriminates against Asian Americans.”
An evidence that has emerged in the case is Harvard’s use of “personal ratings” that relies on racial and ethnic stereotypes to undermine Asians’ chances of admission.
According to a court filing admissions officers were found to use “personal ratings” that gave lower ratings for Asians on subjective criteria like “others like to be around him or her”; has character traits such as “likability… helpfulness, courage, (and) kindness”; “is an attractive person to be with”; “is widely respected”; “is a good person” and “has good human qualities”.
The Justice Department said that “the evidence shows that Harvard uses a ‘personal rating’ that may be biased against Asian Americans” because it “admits that, on average, it scores Asian-American applicants lower on this ‘personal rating’ than applicants of other races.”
The university said in a court filing in June that it uses “whole person evaluation” and declared it “does not discriminate against applicants of any race including Asians.”
It called the SFFA case the “latest salvo by ideological opponents of the consideration of race in university admissions.”
The Asian American Legal Defence and Education Fund (AALDEF), a civil rights group that has championed cases involving Indians, however, is backing Harvard University. It filed a statement in court on Thursday with the backing of about 20 groups, most of them Asian.
AALDEF said that there are vast differences within the Asian group, for example the South Asians and East Asians, many of whom have professional backgrounds, have an edge over South-East Asians, many of whom came as refugees and have to deal with adversities, and, therefore, could benefit from approaches to admissions like those followed by Harvard.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])