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Harvard defends integrity of its admissions in response to allegation of bias against Asian Americans

Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. (Harvard)
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Harvard University defended its undergraduate admissions in a statement this week intended as a preemptive rebuttal to allegations of discrimination against Asian Americans — claims expected to surface soon through documents in a federal lawsuit.

The email from university President Drew Gilpin Faust to students, staff and alumni sought to prepare the Harvard community for publicity likely to emerge in a case with implications for the long-running debate over the use of race and ethnicity as factors in college admissions.

An organization called Students for Fair Admissions sued in late 2014, alleging that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions practices illegally discriminate against Asian Americans by limiting their entry into the school in favor of other groups. Harvard denied the allegations. New documents and arguments from both sides are expected to be filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Boston. The plaintiffs received access to a large cache of internal admission data in the pretrial phase of the case. A trial is expected in the fall.

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“In the weeks and months ahead, a lawsuit aimed to compromise Harvard’s ability to compose a diverse student body will move forward in the courts and in the media,” Faust wrote in the email. She said the plaintiffs “will seek to paint an unfamiliar and inaccurate image” of Harvard admissions. “These claims will rely on misleading, selectively presented data taken out of context,” Faust wrote. “Their intent is to question the integrity of the undergraduate admissions process and to advance a divisive agenda.”

Faust said the university’s admissions team uses an approach upheld by the Supreme Court, “one that relies on broad and extensive outreach to exceptional students in order to attract excellence from all backgrounds.”

Faust, who has led Harvard since 2007, is stepping down soon. On July 1, Lawrence S. Bacow will succeed her as Harvard’s 29th president.

Asked about the statement, Edward Blum, president of Students for Fair Admissions, said Thursday: “I decline to respond to President Faust’s allegations and instead will let our upcoming filing speak for itself.”

In the latest admission cycle, 42,749 applicants sought to enter Harvard’s Class of 2022. The university offered admission to 1,962, fewer than 5 percent. Of those admitted, 22.7 percent were Asian American, 15.5 percent were African American, 12.2 percent were Latino, and 2 percent were Native American. Twelve percent were international students.