BOSTON (Reuters) - Harvard University killed an internal investigation in 2013 that found evidence the Ivy League school’s admissions system is biased against Asian-American applicants, a nonprofit group suing the university alleged in a court filing on Friday.
The claim by Students for Fair Admissions Inc came in a brief that sought to have a federal judge in Boston rule in its favour without a trial in a closely watched lawsuit accusing Harvard of discriminating against Asian-Americans.
The group, headed by prominent anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum, said evidence showed that Harvard had allowed race to become a dominant consideration in considering applicants rather than just a legally allowed “plus” factor.
“Incontrovertible evidence shows that Harvard’s admissions policy has a disproportionately negative effect on Asian-Americans vis-à-vis similarly situated white applicants that cannot be explained on non-discriminatory grounds,” the group said in its brief.
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard in its own brief on Friday denied discriminating against Asian-Americans.
In court papers, Arlington, Virginia-based Students for Fair Admissions said an Asian-American male applicant with a 25 percent chance of admission would have a 35 percent chance if he was white, 75 percent if he were Hispanic and a 95 percent chance if he were black.
The brief did not provide a similar breakdown for women.
It said that in 2013, a Harvard research division found that over a decade Asian-American admission rates were lower than those for whites annually even though whites only outperformed Asian-American applicants on a subjective rating of a student’s personality.
But the group said Harvard ultimately killed the study and buried the reports from it.
The group in its 2014 complaint said Harvard defines “Asian-Americans” as including individuals of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong or Indian descent.
In Friday’s brief, Harvard said the percentage of Asian-Americans it admitted had actually grown by 29 percent over the last decade. It called the 2013 report “preliminary and incomplete” and said that it was done with limited admissions data.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled universities may use affirmative action to help minority applicants get into college. Conservatives have said such programs can hurt white people and Asian-Americans.
In 2016 the nation’s highest court rejected a high-profile challenge to a University of Texas program designed to boost the enrolment of minority students, which was brought by a white woman.
Students for Fair Admissions President Blum found the woman who pursued that case.
In its brief, Harvard called the lawsuit by Blum’s group “the latest salvo by ideological opponents of the consideration of race in university admissions.”
After Republican President Donald Trump took office last year, the Justice Department began investigating whether Harvard’s policies are discriminatory because they limit the acceptance of Asian-Americans.
The Justice Department has since signalled its interest in Students for Fair Admissions’ case, which has an October trial date.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Jonathan Oatis