Top US universities defend Harvard admissions policy

Prestigious private institutions highlight importance of student diversity in light of lawsuit that could set a precedent on affirmative action

August 1, 2018
Harvard university day in the life student

Leading US universities and higher education associations have defended Harvard University’s race-conscious admissions process as the institution faces a lawsuit that could decide the fate of affirmative action in US academia.

In a joint amicus brief, the seven other members of the Ivy League and nine private universities said that they each have “substantial experience” with race-conscious admissions policies and that they “speak with one voice to emphasise the profound importance of a diverse student body for their educational missions”.

A group of 37 higher education associations, including the American Council on Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities, filed a separate amicus brief in Harvard’s favour. It claimed that the lawsuit against Harvard “is nothing more than the first step in a backdoor attempt to achieve the sweeping relief sought – and denied – in Fisher II: the end of the consideration of race in college admissions and the restriction of a university’s ability to assemble a diverse student body”.

The filings come as Harvard is embroiled in a lawsuit alleging that the institution discriminates against Asian American applicants.

Students for Fair Admissions, an anti-affirmative action membership group, sued the institution in 2014 alleging that Harvard’s admissions process holds Asian American applicants to a higher standard and that the institution engages in “racial balancing”. The suit is expected to go to trial in October.

The National Association of Scholars filed an amicus brief in support of SFFA. Peter Wood, NAS president, said that “students should be admitted to colleges on the basis of academic achievement, proven ability, ambition, and commitment to learning” and that “racial identity should play no role in determining who should or should not be admitted”.

Last month, the Trump administration scrapped affirmative action policy guidelines in a move that experts say could have a “chilling effect” on diversity initiatives in US universities and result in the Supreme Court “narrowing” the use of race-conscious admissions.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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