Business & Lobbying

DOJ investigating affirmative action at Harvard


The Justice Department is probing affirmative action policies at Harvard University that allegedly stem from claims of discrimination while choosing which applicants to admit.

Not much is known about the investigation, aside from the fact that it is ongoing.


The revelations came to light after government watchdog group American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the Justice Department, seeking any documents related to affirmative action investigations at two schools, including Harvard.

In response, the group received a letter saying that the documents existed, but could not be handed over because they contain “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes and the release of which could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.”

The dismissal is known as the law enforcement exemption to the open-records law, called (b7), and is aimed at protecting active investigations.

American Oversight, along with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, filed the FOIA request following a New York Times report in August that DOJ was seeking affirmative action cases at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (UNC).

The FOIA response does not specifically mention that Harvard is in the crosshairs, but it does specify that there were no “responsive documents” about any kind of “investigation of admissions policies, practices, procedures or criteria” at UNC. The difference in denials between records about the two schools confirms the investigation of Harvard.

The New York Times story said that the Justice Department’s civil rights division sought to investigate instances of reverse discrimination against white students, but the Justice Department disputed that report — not naming Harvard specifically — and said that the department was looking into an “administrative complaint filed by a coalition of 64 Asian-American associations in May 2015.”

There was a federal complaint filed against Harvard by dozens of Asian-American groups in 2015, claiming that the school passed over elite students in favor of applicants of other races.

“Many Asian-American students who have almost perfect SAT scores, top 1 percent GPAs, plus significant awards or leadership positions in various extracurricular activities have been rejected by Harvard University and other Ivy League Colleges while similarly situated applicants of other races have been admitted,” read the May 2015 complaint.

It was later dismissed because there was another affirmative action complaint already pending against Harvard.

A judge rejected that complaint, which was filed by an anti-affirmative action group, earlier this year.

A recent Supreme Court decision upheld the right for universities to use race-conscious reasoning when crafting and enforcing admissions policies.

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