Administrators of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were sued by an advocacy group claiming race-based admissions policies violate the constitutional rights of highly qualified Asian applicants.
Students for Fair Admissions Inc., a group which said it represents unidentified college applicants rejected by both schools, alleged in lawsuits filed Monday that the use of racial preferences illegally limited admission of Asian Americans.
Such applicants “understand that they are not competing” against “the entire applicant pool,” the group said in its filing against Harvard’s governing body, the Harvard Corp., in Boston federal court. “They are competing only against each other, and all other racial and ethnic groups are insulated from competing against high-achieving Asian Americans.”
Administrators for the University of North Carolina have also used admissions policies aimed at achieving diversity that had a detrimental effect on Asian American applicants, the group alleged in a separate suit in Greensboro federal court.
The group claimed use of race in admissions allows universities including Harvard and UNC to show preferences for particular groups, failing to meet standards set under a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year requiring schools “implement race-neutral means to achieve student body and diversity before turning to racial classifications and preferences.”
Citing an earlier high court decision upholding affirmative action, Robert Iuliano, Harvard’s general counsel, said the university’s admissions policies “remain fully compliant with all legal requirements and are essential to the pedagogical objectives that underlie Harvard¹s educational mission.”
Rick White, associate vice chancellor for communications at the UNC, said in a statement that the university “stands by its current undergraduate admissions policy and process.”
The Austin, Texas-based group that announced the lawsuit did so in tandem with the Project on Fair Representation, an Alexandria, Virginia-based organization that advocates against race or ethnicity-based policies in state and federal courts. On its website, that group said it’s associated with Project Liberty Inc., a nonprofit which said on its web-page that its mission is “limited government, personal enterprise and free enterprise.”
Project on Fair Representation was behind the lawsuit leading to last year’s high court ruling on race-based admissions. The plaintiffs in today’s cases seek court orders barring the universities from using race as a factor in undergraduate admissions, arguing that using other criteria, such as socioeconomic status, could better ensure diversity.
The plaintiff allegations involving Harvard are more severe, alleging that despite the high court ruling, the university maintains a quota-like system, likening it to attempts to limit the number of Jewish students in the 1920s.