US & Canada

Harvard University 'discriminates against Asian-Americans'

Harvard graduates Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Harvard is one of the world's most prestigious universities

Harvard University is discriminating against Asian-American applicants, a non-profit group suing the flagship US academic institution has claimed.

Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) said Harvard preferred white, black and Hispanic applicants, some less qualified than Asian-American ones.

It said Harvard consistently ranked Asian-American applicants lowest on personal traits such as likeability.

Harvard denied this, saying admission rates for Asian-Americans had grown.

Asian-Americans currently make up 22.2% of students admitted to Harvard, according to the university website.

African-Americans constitute 14.6%, Hispanic or Latino 11.6%, Native American or Pacific Islander 2.5%.

A category of all others, mainly white students, is just under 50%.

What did the SFFA say?

In Friday's court motion in Boston, the group said evidence showed that Harvard "engages in racial balancing, uses race as far more than a 'plus' factor, and has no interest in exploring race-neutral alternatives".

The "plus factor" refers to US court rulings regarding affirmative action to help minority applicants get into college.

"What Harvard will not admit is that race is not only an important factor, it is the dominant consideration in admitting Hispanics and African-Americans," the SFFA said.

"An Asian-American applicant with 25% chance of admission, for example, would have a 35% chance if he were white, 75% if he were Hispanic, and 95% chance if he were African-American."

The SFFA did not provide a breakdown for female applicants.

It also claimed that Harvard had come to the same conclusions in its own research in 2013 - but had buried the report.

How did Harvard respond?

The university denied the allegations, saying the SFFA's analysis was flawed in a number of ways and therefore misleading.

"Thorough and comprehensive analysis of the data and evidence makes clear that Harvard College does not discriminate against applicants from any group, including Asian-Americans, whose rate of admission has grown 29% over the last decade," Harvard said in a statement, the New York Times reports.

This is the latest development in an ongoing judicial battle between the SFFA and Harvard which began in 2014.

In 2016, the US Supreme Court rejected a challenge to affirmative action.

The judges denied the challenge of a white woman, who believed she was rejected by the University of Texas due to her race.

Affirmative action, or "positive discrimination", can continue to be used by public universities when considering minority students, the court said.

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