An assault on the concept of “diversity” in college admissions is underway, this time by Asian Americans and older Americans.
A group called Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) recently filed a brief in U.S. District Court of Massachusetts seeking immediate judgment in its favor in its 2014 lawsuit against Harvard University. The group is equating discrimination against Asian Americans with discrimination against Jews in the 1930s. The SFFA’s mission is to eliminate race and ethnicity as factors that either harm or help that student to gain admission to a competitive university.
Meanwhile, older adults claim elite universities are violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by denying them admission to graduate study programs solely because of their age.
The SFFA alleges Harvard discriminates against Asian American applicants in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . The group claims that applicants of Asian descent are eliminated in a subjective review where they are deemed to have “less attractive ‘personal qualities” than whites, African-Americans and Hispanics.
Moreover, the SFFA claims that Harvard engages in “racial balancing” to achieve diversity in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The SFFA contends that Harvard has never seriously considered “race neutral” alternatives in admissions and simply ignores federal court rulings that permit racial preferences only if they are narrowly tailored to enroll a “critical mass of unrepresented minority students” to realize the benefits of a diverse student body. The SFFA claims Harvard uses race as a “predominant factor” in admissions, particularly with respect to African-American and Hispanic applicants.
Can universities make subjective distinctions that disproportionately discriminate against Asian American and older applicants?
According to the SFFA, “An Asian-American applicant with a 25% chance of admission, for example, would have a 35% chance if he were white, a 75% chance if he were Hispanic, and a 95% chance if he were African American.”
Harvard claims that it has a non-discriminatory “holistic” admissions approach that is based upon more than a student’s grade point average and includes multiple factors such as extra-curricular activities and personal qualities.
The SFFA says it uncovered evidence that Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research conducted a review in 2013 that indicated applicants of Asian descent would constitute 43 percent of the admitted class at Harvard under a hypothetical “academics-only” model. The SFFA alleges Harvard killed the review without taking “even the most minor steps to address this problem…”
Most recently, 42,749 applicants sought admission to Harvard’s Class of 2022. The university accepted 1,962 applicants. Of those admitted, 22.7 percent were Asian American; 15.5 percent were African American; 12.2 percent were Latino, and 2 percent were Native American. Fewer than half were white applicants, including so-called legacy applicants who had a parent who graduated from Harvard.
On another front, George Mazza, 62, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), recently filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Georgetown University alleging he was denied admission to a university doctoral program in theology studies in the Fall of 2017 because of his age. Georgetown asserts that Mazza “was not among the most qualified candidates for admission to the program.” Mazza holds several advanced degrees and serves in a senior position in the DOJ, supervising a team of experienced attorneys who investigate complex civil rights cases. He also represents the DOJ on a White House interagency initiative on religion issues.