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US judge rejects Harvard race discrimination claim

October 2, 2019

The prestigious university's admission process is "not perfect," but doesn't discriminate against Asian-Americans, ruled a judge a year after the case was heard. Complainant group SFFA is looking to appeal the verdict.

Harvard university SFFA (Students for fair admissions) hold banners
Image: picture-alliance/Xinhua/L. Jie

A US federal judge ruled on Tuesday that Harvard University's undergraduate admissions program does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants.

A group called Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) brought the lawsuit, accusing Harvard of engaging in illegal racial balancing. The group opposes affirmative action and the Trump administration has previously spoken out in favor of its lawsuit.

Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston concluded that Harvard's program was "not perfect” but it "passes constitutional muster" and continued to advance the Ivy League school's interest in having a diverse student body.

There is "no evidence of any racial animus whatsoever" and no evidence that any admission decision was "negatively affected by Asian American identity" argued Burroughs, an appointee of former President Barack Obama in a 130-page document on her decision.

Read more: France, Germany, Italy Have EU's Least Accessible Universities

SFFA, Harvard react to ruling

Two people take photographs in front of Harvard university campus
Harvard university's admission policy is "not perfect" but still promotes diversity in the student body, ruled the judge.Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Senne

Responding, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) founder Edward Blum said he was disappointed by the decision which was delivered over a year after the non-jury trial.

"We believe the documents, emails, data analysis and depositions SFFA presented at trial compellingly revealed Harvard's systematic discrimination against Asian-American applicants," he said.

Blum said he now intends to appeal the decision through the federal appeal court and if necessary will look for the Supreme Court to review the appeal.

Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow welcomed the ruling, saying that the consideration of race and many other factors "helps us achieve our goal of creating a diverse student body that enriches the education of every student."

"Today we reaffirm the importance of diversity — and everything it represents to the world," he added.

The American Council on Education, which represents US college and university presidents also supported the ruling.

Read more:  UN warns migrant children are missing out on education

Challenging Supreme Court admissions precedent

SSFA, had accused Harvard of engaging in illegal racial balancing in its admissions process, in order to keep numbers of Asian-Americans at the ivy-league campus purposefully low.

In the Harvard case it argued that Asian-Americans were held to a higher standard in admissions, amounting to what it called "an Asian penalty" while Harvard gave preference to black and Hispanic students with poorer grades.

The group had hoped the ruling would be a first step to overturning US Supreme Court precedents that allow colleges to consider race as one factor in admissions, so long as quotas are not involved.

kmm/se (AP, Reuters)