Harvard University students on campus in Cambridge, Mass. on Sept. 10, 2013.
Photo by Gretchen Ertl/The New York Times/Redux

Asian-American groups file racial bias complaint against Harvard

A coalition of 64 advocacy organizations has filed a federal complaint against Harvard University, alleging the Ivy League school “systematically discriminates” against Asian-Americans by instituting higher standards for that group during its admissions process.

The filing with the Department of Justice and the Department of Education also claims that Asian-American applicants must score higher on tests than other groups in order to be accepted, and that Harvard uses a racial quota. Those acts, the groups allege, violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 14th Amendment.

“With rapid growth of college-age Asian-Americans and their improving performance, we have seen more and more cases that highly qualified Asian-American applicants have been unfairly rejected by Harvard and other Ivy League schools …” Yukong Zhao, an author and columnist who mobilized groups to sign on to the complaint, told msnbc. “This situation is getting worse, in particularly for Asian-American boys,” Zhao added.

The complaint references third-party research and analysis, including one study showing that when applying to top private schools, Asian-Americans must score approximately 140 points higher on the SAT than a white student, 270 points higher than a Hispanic student and 450 points higher than a black student be on equal footing.

Chunyan Li, an assistant professor of accounting at Pace University who also reached out to Chinese, Korean, Indian and Pakistani groups across the U.S. to sign on to the complaint, told msnbc “the goal is to have the federal government conduct a federal investigation into elite universities … We Asian-Americans are held to a higher standard than anyone else.” She noted because admissions records are not made public, the only way to get answers is to have the federal government investigate.

Harvard University General Counsel Robert Iuliano said in a statement that the school’s “admissions process is “fully compliant with the law” and noted the percentage of admitted Asian-American students has increased from 17.6% to 21% over the past decade. He also pointed to the 1978 Supreme Court decision in Regents of University of California v. Bakke, which upheld affirmative action and how during that case Harvard was cited as having a “legally sound approach to admissions.”

Harvard says it uses a “holistic” admissions process in its application process in which an applicant’s background and personal characteristics are taken into account, including race and ethnicity when relevant. The complaint argues the process is subjective and disproportionately punishes Asian-American applicants, who are applying in higher numbers than ever before.

The move comes six months after the filing of a federal lawsuit against Harvard by Students for Fair Admissions, a group similarly alleging Harvard illegally curbed admissions of Asian-Americans.

Education Policy and Harvard

Asian-American groups file racial bias complaint against Harvard