Justice Department Probe of Harvard Admissions May Hit on Affirmative Action: Report

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Trump administration’s battle against affirmative action is under way. A new report from BuzzFeed News confirms that the Department of Justice is investigating Harvard University’s admissions practices. The investigation likely centers on allegations that Harvard’s use of affirmative action discriminates against students of Asian descent, according to the report.


BuzzFeed reports that the confirmation is based on Freedom of Information Act requests sent to the DOJ “seeking records about investigations into admissions practices” at two universities: Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While the Justice Department maintained that there were no relevant records related to UNC, the department told BuzzFeed that it could not disclose any Harvard documents because they were being “compiled for law-enforcement purposes,” making them exempt from the FOIA request.


When contacted about the response letter, the DOJ confirmed that there is an “active” investigation at Harvard.

The confirmation signals that the Trump administration will forge ahead in its plans to dismantle affirmative action by claiming it hurts another minority group: Asian Americans. The news comes nearly two months after an internal Justice Department document was released indicating that resources in its Civil Rights Division would be redirected toward investigating and suing universities over their affirmative action policies.

The Harvard investigation centers on a single complaint filed by 64 Asian-American groups in 2014 that claimed the prestigious Ivy League university discriminated against Asian-American applicants. The suit alleges that Harvard uses a quota system—a practice that has been ruled illegal—to keep the number of Asian-American students static year after year.

But at the center of the suit is a man who has had his eyes set on dismantling key civil-rights-era legislation: Edward Blum. The conservative attorney successfully challenged the Voting Rights Act, with the Supreme Court effectively gutting the landmark legislation in 2013. Blum also challenged the University of Texas’ race-based admissions policies as being discriminatory against white students. The Supreme Court last year ruled against Blum and upheld the use of race in admissions decisions.


Now Blum hopes to use Asian Americans as a wedge to dismantle policies that have broadly benefited people of color. In fact, data shows that the Asian-American community may actually support affirmative action.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil rights group, polled Asian-American voters last year and found that 64 percent supported affirmative action programs “designed to help blacks, women and other minorities get better access to higher education,” according to the Los Angeles Times.


Nicole Gon Ochi, an attorney for the group, pointed out to the Los Angeles Times that Asian Americans are not a monolith, and that affirmative action programs have been particularly helpful for “traditionally disadvantaged” populations, like Southeast Asian and low-income Asian students.

And a HuffPost article published earlier this year points out that data consistently shows that white students are frequently held to lower standards than their Asian-American peers in the college admissions process. Instead of focusing on this disparity, however, groups like those that launched the 2014 Harvard complaint have blamed black and Latinx applicants.


As Kim Forde-Mazrui, a law professor at the University of Virginia who specializes on race, told the Los Angeles Times in August, the Trump administration’s feigned interest in protecting Asian Americans is politically opportunistic.

“This is primarily about conservative leaders protecting the privilege of access to society’s resources and opportunities for certain white constituents,” Forde-Mazrui said, noting that white conservatives don’t care about anti-Asian discrimination in other spaces.


“I don’t see many of them concerned about discrimination against Asian Americans in other contexts, such as the ‘bamboo ceiling’ in corporate America, where such discrimination does not harm white interests.”

Read more at BuzzFeed.

Staff writer, The Root.

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So let’s fast forward 20-30 years of this policy. Does that mean Indian and Asian students will be the vast majority of people going to the best institutions - thus flooding the ranks of investment banking, tech, law, politics, and medicine - displacing incumbent whites?

Does a white supremacy scheme actually allow that to happen? Or do we get a Silicon Valley situation, where some people of color have some power, but not in proportion to their #’s?