The school puts a priority on diversity in its student enrollment, but the nonprofit organization Students for Fair Admissions filed a lawsuit contending that a cap on the number of Asian-Americans admitted is discriminatory. The case is being closely observed by opponents of affirmative action, and its result could limit race-conscious admissions in other schools.
Instead of a jury, Judge Allison Dale Burroughs will decide if Harvard’s admissions policies violate federal civil rights law.
Students for Fair Admissions is composed largely of Asian-Americans who were rejected for admission by Harvard, which annually accepts about 1,600 students from a pool of 42,000 applicants. The group contends that Harvard systematically rejects qualified Asian-American applicants to maintain illegal racial quotas.
The organization is led nationally by Edward Blum, who has funded challenges to affirmative action at other colleges.
The trial is expected to last three weeks, and will include testimony from several Harvard administrators, including William Fitzsimmons, the school’s longtime dean of admissions. Fitzsimmons is a proponent of a holistic approach to selection, which includes consideration of extracurricular activities and formative experiences. The model is used by many other colleges.
Six years of Harvard admissions data are expected to be presented in court, including closely guarded secrets related to its selection methodology. Examples of student applications and messages sent between Harvard admissions officials, normally held private, could become public in the testimony. The evidence may shed light on how the school judges applicants and makes decisions regarding enrollment, the campus newspaper Harvard Crimson reported.
Nearly all evidence to be presented in court, with certain exceptions, such as students’ names on applications, will become part of the public record, Burroughs ruled in an Oct. 3 pretrial hearing.