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Trump Administration Backs Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against Harvard

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Trump administration is backing a racial discrimination lawsuit against Harvard University. In federal court today, the Justice Department filed a brief arguing that the school's subjective personal rating system puts Asian-American applicants at a disadvantage. Kirk Carapezza from member station WGBH in Boston has the story.

KIRK CARAPEZZA, BYLINE: The Justice Department is supporting the group Students for Fair Admissions which has accused Harvard of capping the number of Asian-American students it admits by systematically ranking them lower on intangible traits, like courage, kindness and leadership. In its filing today, the Justice Department said Harvard has failed to show that it does not unlawfully discriminate against Asian-Americans. The plaintiff and other conservatives want Harvard to drop race-conscious admissions altogether.

ILYA SHAPIRO: I can't believe it's 2018 and we're saying that that person deserves to get in over that person solely because they're of a preferred race.

CARAPEZZA: That's Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He thinks the approach Harvard is accused of taking perpetuates a certain stereotype of Asian-Americans.

I. SHAPIRO: That their whole strength of their application is that they just do well in math or do well on their standardized tests, and they're not a whole person. Their personality isn't as great, and it's bizarre.

CARAPEZZA: Harvard denies the charges and, in a statement, says it's disappointed that the Justice Department has taken the side of Students for Fair Admissions. The university has pointed out that Asian-Americans now account for nearly 23 percent of all admitted students. While the case focuses on Asian-Americans, the foundation of race-conscious college admissions is at stake. That's why civil rights organizations are defending Harvard, including several Asian-American groups.

NICOLE OCHI: There is a lot of research that shows that diverse learning environments benefit everyone.

CARAPEZZA: Attorney Nicole Ochi, with the group Asian Americans Advancing Justice, says Harvard couldn't achieve the same level of diversity without considering race.

OCHI: We don't believe there's any evidence that that is unconstitutional or discriminating against Asian-Americans.

CARAPEZZA: Harvard's lawyers have dismissed Students for Fair Admissions as, quote, "nothing more than a mailing list." The trial is set to start in October. For NPR News, I'm Kirk Carapezza in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.