A prominent opponent of racial preferences in college admissions announced Monday two lawsuits alleging unlawful bias in admission policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation, which backed the plaintiff in a recent affirmative action case in Texas that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, said the new suits were filed in federal courts in Boston and Greensboro, N.C.
Blum said the plaintiff in both new cases is a group he leads called Students for Fair Admissions. Among the group’s members, he said, are two 18-year-old men: an Asian American student denied admission to Harvard, and a white student turned down by UNC-Chapel Hill.
Blum alleged that Harvard’s admission process discriminates against Asian Americans, and that UNC-Chapel Hill failed to give adequate consideration to race-neutral admissions.
“These two lawsuits are the first of what are expected to be several similar challenges to other competitive colleges that continue to unconstitutionally use racial preferences in admission decisions,” he said.
The Supreme Court in 2013 sent the University of Texas’s admission policy — which uses race as one of many factors in assembling a class — back to lower courts, telling them to evaluate it with the most rigorous scrutiny that applies to government policies that consider race.
Judges have since upheld the system even under those standards, and Blum has said he will ask the high court to consider Fisher v. University of Texas once again.
Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill defended their policies.
Robert Iuliano, Harvard’s general counsel, said the university’s admission plan was cited as legally sound in a landmark Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in the 1970s. He said Harvard — like many other colleges — uses an “individualized, holistic review” of applicants to create each class.
“The university’s admissions processes remain fully compliant with all legal requirements and are essential to the pedagogical objectives that underlie Harvard’s educational mission,” Iuliano said in a statement.
Rick White, associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs at UNC-Chapel Hill, said in a statement that the university stands by its current undergraduate admissions policy and process.
“Further, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights determined in 2012 that UNC-Chapel Hill’s use of race in the admissions process is consistent with federal law,” White said.
Robert Barnes contributed to this report.