AAUP, Ivy League defend Harvard’s affirmative action policies

The amicus briefs argue that Harvard has a "compelling interest" in ensuring diversity within the student body, and should be allowed to use race as one factor in its admissions decisions.

A national professors' union and the entire Ivy League are among those who have filed briefs supporting Harvard University's affirmative action policies, which allegedly discriminate against Asian American applicants.

The American Association of University Professors and the entire Ivy League have sided with Harvard University as it faces a lawsuit challenging its affirmative action policies.

A non-profit group called Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) recently put the public spotlight on Harvard University, alleging that the school discriminates against Asian Americans in its admission process. Harvard has dismissed the validity of this lawsuit as “ideological,” arguing that it is legally entitled to use race as a factor in its admissions decisions as a means of achieving racial diversity.

According to SFFA, Asian Americans have “significantly” stronger academic qualifications than do applicants from other groups, and “would comprise 50% of the admitted class” if Harvard evaluated students solely on their academic merits, rather than their current 18.7 percent share of the student body.

One reason for this discrepancy, SFFA alleges, is that the Admissions Office consistently gives Asian Americans low ratings for personality, even though alumni interviewers tend to score them highly in that category.

[RELATED: Harvard derides affirmative action lawsuit as ‘ideological’]

Last week the AAUP, along with the American Council on Education and 35 other higher education associations, filed an amicus brief opposing the public challenge to Harvard’s race-based admission tactics.  

“The case, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard, asks the court to prevent Harvard and other colleges and universities from using race as part of their admission criteria for students,” the AAUP explains in a page on its website titled "AAUP Supports Affirmative Action." 

“The plaintiff is an organization created by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum,” the statement adds, noting that the suit “alleges that Harvard’s admissions process holds Asian-American applicants to a higher standard and argues that Harvard engages in ‘racial balancing’ when it could use race-neutral alternatives.”

The amicus brief, conversely, argues that “a diverse student body is essential to educational objectives of colleges and universities, and that each institution should be able to exercise its academic judgment to determine within broad limits the diversity that will advance its own particular mission."

[RELATED: Affirmative action ‘a compelling government interest,’ academics say]

“This lawsuit is nothing more than the first step in a backdoor attempt to achieve the sweeping relief sought—and denied—in Fisher vs. University of Texas...the end of the consideration of race in college admissions and the restriction of a university’s ability to assemble a diverse student body,” the amicus brief begins, contending that “it is more than coincidence that this suit was filed against the very university that the Supreme Court has specifically cited approvingly...for its appropriate use of race as a part of individualized considerations in admissions.”

The document endorses Harvard’s argument that it considers race “flexibly” as one factor among many, noting that the university has been unable to identify any “workable race-neutral alternatives that would allow it to achieve its compelling interest in diversity while advancing its fundamental institutional objectives, including academic excellence.”

“Although colleges and universities may not use racial quotas or engage in racial balancing, they are entitled to decide for themselves the characteristics of a class most conducive to the pursuit of their unique missions,” the groups write, adding that “Because universities protect the bedrock ‘freedoms of speech and thought...courts have long refrained from second-guessing their educational judgments. That deference naturally extends to admissions criteria and decisions, which are paradigmatic academic judgments.”

[RELATED: Harvard prof calls for racial ‘quota system’ in higher ed]

Brown University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, and Yale University, along with 10 other universities, filed a similar brief on the same day, arguing against “facially race-neutral approaches to admissions” and asserting that it would be an “extraordinary intrusion” to “prohibit all consideration of race in the admissions process.”

Together, the schools argue that “mechanistic admissions plans that rely solely on purportedly objective factors like college entrance test scores or GPA” would not “provide workable means of attaining a diverse student body.”

“Such an approach would not just result in requiring the admission of far more students than [we] are able to serve, it would also be at odds with [our] educational missions,” they add.

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