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Affirmative Action, Harvard, and the DOJ

Photo Credit: See-ming Lee

For almost three years, Harvard has been entangled in a lawsuit targeting its admissions practices. The suit, brought by Students for Fair Admissions, alleges that Harvard is “employing racially and ethnically discriminatory policies and procedures in administering the undergraduate admissions program.” According to The Harvard Crimson, “The case was put on hold in advance of a Supreme Court ruling on the affirmative action case Fisher vs. The University of Texas at Austin.” Now, however, since the case concluded back in 2016, it is nearly certain that the Harvard suit will once again regain national attention and the close scrutiny of judges across the nation, and possibly even the Supreme Court.

Although Asian-Americans are the second largest demographic at Harvard, making up 22% of the 2017 incoming class, the lawsuit argues that this statistic should be increased, affording the Asian-American population a larger representation at the Ivy League institution. A 120-page complaint to the Department of Justice argues that Harvard’s “holistic” admissions criteria disguises “the fact that it holds Asian-Americans to a far higher standard than other students” and is “a figleaf to hide, dissemble and obfuscate racial balancing and quotas.” Now, with rising tension and clear discontent across the nation regarding admissions practices at universities, the DOJ may be getting involved.

According to an internal announcement directed to the Civil Rights division, the DOJ “seeks current lawyers interested in working for a new project on investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions.” The document, obtained by the New York Times, did not specify a direct ethnic group or case that the DOJ intends to invesitgate; however, it is extremely likely that this contentious issue will expedite an investigation of the Harvard complaint, since it was filed by a coalition of over sixty Asian-American groups.

Affirmative Action is not a recent development by any means. Many other critics, in addition to the Harvard plaintiffs, have spoken out about the ironic discriminatory tendencies of Affirmative Action. Some of these critics argue that it handles minorities with “kid gloves,” meaning that the actions and behaviors of minorities, whether bad or good, will be cloaked in excuses. Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, is one such critic. In a 2004 study of Affirmative Action around the world, Sowell concluded that “despite sweeping claims made for affirmative action programs, an examination of their actual consequences makes it hard to support those claims, or even to say that these programs have been beneficial on net balance—unless one is prepared to say that any amount of social redress, however small, is worth any amount of costs and dangers, however large.” Sowell asserts that Affirmative Action actually results in a high drop-out rate among minority students. He argues that Affirmative Actions gives students enough of a boost that many minority students attend academic institutions that are not suited to their academic needs, resulting in a higher drop out rate.

Affirmative Action remains a controversial national issue, as demonstrated by the examples provided above. However, with more lawsuits against admission practices on the grounds of discrimination presenting themselves, it seems as if the American populace is waking up to the nature of Affirmative Action implementations. Universities purport to use a holistic admissions process, without examining whether their implementation of this process helps its intended beneficiaries: minority students. To best serve taxpayers and students alike, Universities should examine their admissions practices to make sure that they are standardized and based on the merit and experience of students. This is an opportunity for Americans in academia to unite around serving students and providing them with the best education opportunities possible.

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About Sarah R. Warren (1 Article)
Sarah R. Warren studies Political Science and English at Florida State University. Her passion for research has led her to contribute to and conduct research on variety of topics ranging from selective incorporation to international judicial politics, as well as begin serving as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador on campus. Currently, she researches female NSDAP party members with faculty at FSU. She is also Student Ambassador for Prager University. Learn more about PragerU at prageru.com.

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