Does Harvard University Discriminate against Asian Students?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 9, 2017

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Harvard“Affirmative Action” is the practice of favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination.

Commonly, the practice has been used to provide greater opportunities in jobs and education for members of minority groups.

The concept of affirmative action was used by President Kennedy in 1961, in Executive Order 10925. The Order requires government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

In 1967, “sex” was added to that list.


Affirmative action has long been controversial, and some claim that it illegally discriminates against those who are not members of minority groups.

As Newsweek reported, in the context of university hiring practices,

The academic world has been fiercely split on affirmative-action programs from the start. On one side stand those who support the contention of women’s groups and civil-rights leaders that numerical goals and timetables are the only practical way to enforce fair hiring. Ranged against them are a number of educators who believe that affirmative action, at least as it is defined by the Federal bureaucracy, constitutes a threat to academic standards, and a thinly disguised quota system that discriminates against white males.

Discrimination in education on the basis of race is prohibited by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Taking on Harvard

As the New York Times reports, a former Southern California mayor is now taking on Harvard’s affirmative action programs, claiming that they reward white students and members of some minority groups at the expense of another.

Edward Blum, 65, has brought more than 20 lawsuits challenging affirmative action practices and voting rights laws. Two of those cases made it all the way to the US Supreme Court.

According to the Times, in his latest lawsuit Blum has alleged that

Harvard University’s affirmative action policies amount to an illegal quota system that denies high-achieving Asian-American students admission in numbers commensurate with their qualifications.

Blum says his activism derives from the anti-Semitism experienced by his family in the South in the 1950s and ’60s. His father was a traveling salesman, and some hotels wouldn’t accept Jewish guests.

Justice Department Probe 

As NPR reports, the US Justice Department has also opened a probe into Harvard’s admissions practices:

The investigation is looking into allegations that the elite university’s admissions policies discriminate against white and Asian-Americans seeking admission by holding them to higher standards than black and Latino applicants.

The Justice Department threatened to sue unless Harvard turned over requested documents by December 1.

As the Times reported, Harvard agreed to turn over years of applicant and student records — but only on the condition that the confidential records be examined in the offices of Harvard’s lawyers.

Harvard claims that it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race, but that it tries to assemble a diverse student body. To that end, says the Times, “many applicants who would qualify based on grades and test scores alone are denied.”

Photo Credit: Harvard Buildings, Gabriel Saldana, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

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