Statement in Response to Federal Discrimination Complaint

Statement from Robert Iuliano, Harvard University General Counsel:

Today’s announcement follows a lawsuit filed against Harvard University in November 2014, which is seeking to prevent Harvard College from considering race as part of its effort to build a dynamic class that will enhance the educational experience for the entire student body. The College’s admissions policies are fully compliant with the law and are essential to the pedagogical objectives that underlie its educational mission.

When a similar claim—that Harvard College discriminates against Asian American applicants—was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, federal officials determined that the College’s approach to admissions was fully compliant with federal law.  That our approach to admissions is fully lawful remains true today.

In fact, within its holistic admissions process, and as part of its effort to build a diverse class, Harvard College has demonstrated a strong record of recruiting and admitting Asian American students.  For instance, the percentage of admitted Asian American students admitted to Harvard College has increased from 17.6 percent to 21 percent over the past decade.

In his seminal opinion in Regents of University of California v. Bakke, Justice Powell cited the Harvard College admissions plan in describing a legally sound approach to admissions.  Then and now, the College considers each applicant through an individualized, holistic review having the goal of creating a vibrant academic community that exposes students to a wide-range of differences:  background, ideas, experiences, talents and aspirations. 

As the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized, a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions, including on race, transforms the educational experience of students from every background and prepares our graduates for an increasingly pluralistic world.  It is and makes possible essential aspects of the College’s mission.

It adds significantly to the rigor and depth of students’ educational experience. It encourages students to question their own assumptions, to test received truths, and to appreciate the spectacular complexity of the modern world. This larger understanding prepares graduates to be active and engaged citizens wrestling with the pressing challenges of the day, to pursue innovation in every field of discovery, to make positive economic contributions and to expand humanity’s learning and accomplishment.

 We will vigorously defend the right of Harvard, and other universities, to continue to seek the educational benefits that come from a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions.