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Harvard makes its last plea to avoid a trial in affirmative action case


Before economists, interest groups, and perhaps even the US Department of Justice weigh in this week on a closely watched college affirmative action case, Harvard University made its final pitch to a federal judge to avoid a trial.

In court documents filed Monday, Harvard argued that there is scant evidence to suggest it discriminates against Asian-American students in its admissions practices.

The lawsuit brought by Students for Fair Admissions, which represents Asian-American students, is heavy on rhetoric and flimsy on documentary evidence, Harvard argued on Monday, in what will likely be its last court filing before the trial scheduled for October in Boston.


Harvard’s documents are the first of many filings that will be submitted before the Thursday court deadline by organizations that are interested in the outcome of the case.

The lawsuit has become the latest front in the battle over the use of race in college admissions and has drawn the attention of civil rights groups, conservative think tanks, and the Justice Department under the Trump administration.

The Justice Department has launched its own affirmative action investigation into Harvard’s admission practices, and experts anticipate that it will submit a brief in opposition to the university this week.

In its Monday filings, Harvard hammered on its longstanding position that the college appropriately considers race in admissions and that Students for Fair Admissions lacks the legal authority to bring this case.

“There is no direct evidence in this case — either documentary or testimonial — that 40 members of Harvard’s Admissions Office engaged in a systemic effort to limit the number of Asian Americans at Harvard,” Harvard’s attorneys wrote in court documents. “Harvard’s admissions practices are entirely consistent with the law and necessary to build the diverse community critical to the success of its students.”

According to Students for Fair Admissions, which reviewed six years of Harvard admissions data and documents, Asian-Americans across the academic spectrum received lower personal ratings from admissions officials than their peers. The personal traits, which measure qualities such as courage and likability, are among the factors that Harvard uses to admit students.


Harvard’s own internal analysisalso raised concerns about how Asian-American applicants are treated by the college’s selective admissions process, Students for Fair Admissions has argued.

Harvard has called the internal documents preliminary and has disputed the analysis of the college’s admissions data done by Students for Fair Admissions, calling it “far too unreliable.”

A spokesperson for Students for Fair Admissions was not immediately available for comment, but the group will also likely file documents asking the judge to rule in its favor this week.

The high-stakes case could transform how colleges consider race in admissions and will likely be decided by the Supreme Court in coming years.

Students for Fair Admissions previously challenged race-based admissions at the University of Texas that centered on a white student.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that colleges could continue to use race as one of several admission factors, as long as the schools could show they could not achieve diversity through other ways.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes