Har­vard de­fends ad­mis­sions pol­icy

As case goes to trial, ap­peal ex­pected from ei­ther side.

The Palm Beach Post - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Nick An­der­son Wash­ing­ton Post

Har­vard Uni­ver­sity’s se­cre­tive ad­mis­sions process will un­dergo a rare pub­lic dis­sec­tion in a trial start­ing this week of al­le­ga­tions that the Ivy League school dis­crim­i­nates against Asian-Amer­i­cans.

Har­vard of­fi­cials, from the ad­mis­sions team to a for­mer pres­i­dent, will be asked to ex­plain and de­fend un­der oath how the elite uni­ver­sity con­sid­ers race when it se­lects a class. Some Har­vard stu­dents and alumni, in­clud­ing Asian-Amer­i­cans, are also ex­pected to tes­tify in sup­port of race-con­scious ad­mis­sions and the ben­e­fits of cam­pus di­ver­sity.

But none of the Asian-Amer­i­cans who the law­suit claims were vic­tims of racial bias are ex­pected to take the wit­ness stand in fed­eral court in Bos­ton. Their iden­ti­ties are undis­closed, and the de­tails of their sto­ries largely un­known ex­cept to con­fi­dants and lawyers who ques­tioned them be­fore the trial.

The pub­lic voice of Har­vard’s le­gal foe is Ed­ward Blum, pres­i­dent of Stu­dents for Fair Ad­mis­sions, the group that sued. Blum, 66, who is white and lives in Florida and Maine, is known for or­ga­niz­ing le­gal chal­lenges to af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion poli­cies and vot­ing rights laws.

He cham­pi­oned the claim that the race-con­scious ad­mis­sion pol­icy of the Uni­ver­sity of Texas was un­con­sti­tu­tional, through a law­suit on be­half of a white woman named Abi­gail Fisher whose ap­pli­ca­tion had been de­nied. The Supreme Court up­held the UT pol­icy in 2016.

In con­trast with the Fisher case and other land­mark lit­i­ga­tion on col­lege ad­mis­sions, Blum said those who al­lege they were wronged by Har­vard will re­main un­named in the trial start­ing Mon­day. They are, he said, mem­bers of his group.

“As the court and the par­ties un­der­stand, these stu­dents will re­main anony­mous be­cause of the ha­rass­ment and so­cial me­dia ug­li­ness that pub­lic disclosure would al­low,” Blum told The Wash­ing­ton Post in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “The par­ties rec­og­nized that the ha­rass­ment and threats made to Abi­gail Fisher dur­ing her law­suit against the Uni­ver­sity of Texas com­pelled ev­ery­one to keep the iden­ti­ties of these stu­dents anony­mous.”

A group called Asian Amer­i­can Coali­tion for Ed­u­ca­tion and oth­ers ral­lied Sun­day af­ter­noon in Bos­ton in sup­port of the law­suit. But crit­ics ques­tion Blum’s agenda. “Is he con­cerned about dis­crim­i­na­tion against Asian-Amer­i­cans?” said Janelle Wong, a pro­fes­sor of Asian-Amer­i­can stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land, who sup­ports the Har­vard pol­icy. “My an­swer is no way.”

Blum ac­knowl­edged that he had sought out Asian-Amer­i­cans whose sto­ries would pro­vide ex­am­ples for the case, much as he looked for white stu­dents to launch cases else­where. He said that ap­proach was no dif­fer­ent from how other le­gal in­ter­est groups re­cruit plain­tiffs to com­bat dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“The cor­ner­stone mis­sion of this or­ga­ni­za­tion is to elim­i­nate the use of race and eth­nic­ity in col­lege ad­mis­sions,” MORE DE­TAILS

The trial, which could last three weeks or more, is the lat­est round in the long-run­ning de­bate over af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion. How­ever U.S. Dis­trict Judge Al­li­son D. Bur­roughs rules, both sides ex­pect the ver­dict to be ap­pealed. Plan­tiffs’ at­tor­ney Ed­ward Blum said he hopes to push the is­sue back to the Supreme Court in an ef­fort to over­turn prece­dents that al­low uni­ver­si­ties, within cer­tain lim­its, to con­sider race in ad­mis­sions. The piv­otal vote in the 2016 rul­ing up­hold­ing UT’s pol­icy was Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy, who has since re­tired and been re­placed by Jus­tice Brett Ka­vanaugh. Blum said. “Pe­riod. We make no bones about that.”

Courts some­times shield iden­ti­ties of al­leged vic­tims in civil suits. Be­fore the trial, Har­vard chal­lenged the stand­ing of Blum’s group to sue. But U.S. Dis­trict Judge Al­li­son D. Bur­roughs ruled that the case should pro­ceed.

Stu­dents for Fair Ad­mis­sions filed its law­suit against Har­vard in 2014, al­leg­ing that the uni­ver­sity lim­its the num­ber of Asian-Amer­i­cans ad­mit­ted to its un­der­grad­u­ate col­lege in an ef­fort to boost ap­pli­cants from other racial and eth­nic groups. The group also al­leged that Har­vard has not given ad­e­quate con­sid­er­a­tion to how it might cre­ate a di­verse stu­dent body without re­sort­ing to af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion.

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