Published: Wed, November 22, 2017
Global | By Shelia Dennis

Justice Department opens Harvard admissions probe, threatens to sue for documents

Justice Department opens Harvard admissions probe, threatens to sue for documents

The Department of Justice is investigating the use of race in admissions policies at Harvard based on a federal civil complaint that the school has been discriminating against Asian Americans, according to documents released Tuesday by The Wall Street Journal.

The inquiry is related to a federal lawsuit filed by a group of students in 2014 alleging Harvard limits the number of Asian Americans it admits each year.

Supporters of affirmative action in college admissions say that it levels the playing field in higher education by welcoming traditionally excluded groups like minority students, whereas its critics say the practice favors one group over another based on race instead of academic achievement.

"Harvard has publicly stated that its admissions policies and ongoing efforts to enroll a racially and economically diverse student body are in compliance with the 1964 Civil Rights Act", reports NPR's Claudio Sanchez.

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The federal agency launched an investigation of Harvard's affirmative action practices some time ago, after an Asian-American complained in 2015 of discrimination.

Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malley said in a statement: "The Department of Justice takes seriously any potential violation of an individual's civil and constitutional rights".

Affirmative action - known as positive action in the United Kingdom - has been challenged in courts several times before, including by Mr Blum and the Students for Fair Admission group.

Harvard "has pursued a strategy of delay and has not yet produced even a single document", according to the Justice Department.

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In a letter sent Friday, Matthew Donnelly of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said Waxman had erroneously challenged the agency's right to investigate Harvard under Title VI and had proposed a plan to give restricted access to limited documents. "This investigation is a welcome development". A similar complaint was made to the Justice Department.

"It's peculiar that you have a situation in which the Department of Education has dismissed a complaint and the Justice Department then decides to investigate under Title VI", Bhargava said. "For obvious reasons, Title VI does not allow entities under investigation to dictate what information qualifies as relevant", Reuters reported, citing portions of a letter Justice sent to Harvard. "The Department of Justice is committed to protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination", she had said.

In the November 17 response, Justice officials said steps would be taken to shield Harvard's records from the public, but refused to share their files. The school also said just over half of the freshmen admitted in 2017 were women, more than one-in-five were Asian and nearly 15 percent listed as African-American.

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