WHAT IT IS
Harvard University is an ivy league college located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It accepts about 5% of applicants every year. [Harvard Admissions]
A student advocacy group, Students for Fair Admissions, filed a lawsuit against Harvard in 2014 claiming Harvard's admission policies discriminate against prospective Asian-American students. [NPR]
The group analyzed data that it says reveals white, black and Hispanic students are more likely to be admitted to Harvard than Asian-Americans. [Reuters]
Academic institutions that receive funding from the federal government cannot discriminate on the basis of “race, color or national origin,” according to U.S. law. [Department of Education]
This policy is known as affirmative action. [Legal Information Institute]
The group argued that twice as many Asian-Americans would be admitted if academic performance was the only admissions factor considered. Schools often use a comprehensive review of their admission processes. [WBUR]
- Harvard said race is one of several things that they consider when reviewing applications and has denied the alleged discrimination. [Associated Press]
WHY IT MATTERS
SOCIAL: The outcome of the case could impact admission practices for colleges and universities across the country and the criteria used to admit students of diverse backgrounds. [Vox]
CIVICS: Affirmative action is an action or policy favoring groups who tend to suffer from discrimination, especially in relation to employment or education. [Legal Information Institute] Some refer to it as "positive discrimination."
RACE SHOULD PLAY
Some current students feel they benefited from affirmative action and don’t believe race should be separated from a student’s persona. [The Washington Post]
Admission factors such as SAT or ACT scores, grade point average and a student’s extracurricular resume might not entirely represent the quality and potential of a student. [The New York Times]
Race is a factor of admission that helps colleges and universities create diverse student bodies. [USA Today]
DON'T CONSIDER IT
Instead of race, Harvard should use school quality as an admission factor, the school’s newspaper opined. [The Harvard Crimson]
Change the policy
Some believe affirmative action is a beneficial strategy but that it should be based on a student’s needs rather than race. [The Boston Globe]
72% of Americans believe race shouldn’t be a college admission factor. [Inside Higher Ed]
Read more from The Atlantic about how affirmative action may end soon.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
President Trump publically supported the group that filed the lawsuit. [TIME]
Oct 2019: A federal judge ruled that Harvard's admission policy does not discriminate against Asian Americans. [The New York Times] Many are speculating that the decision will be appealed, and could end up in the Supreme Court.
Aug. 2020: The Department of Justice has accused Yale University of discriminating against Asian American and white applicants. [TIME]
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
Should race be used as a factor for admission to colleges or universities?
The New York Times considered what might happen if Harvard stopped considering race as a factor for admission.
What impact does affirmative action have on college admissions? [NBC News]
How would the Supreme Court use precedent to rule on the Harvard case if it reaches the nation’s highest court?
Learn more about the history of affirmative action from The Smithsonian.