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US to review Harvard admission complaints

By Daniel Golden
Bloomberg News / February 3, 2012
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The US Education Department is reviewing complaints that Harvard and Princeton discriminate against Asian-Americans in undergraduate admissions.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating a complaint it received in August that Harvard rejected an Asian-American candidate for the current freshman class based on race or national origin, said an Education Department spokesman who declined to be identified, citing department policy. The agency is looking into a similar August allegation against Princeton as part of a review begun in 2008 of that school’s handling of Asian-American candidates, the spokesman said.

Both complaints involve the same applicant, who was among the top students in his California high school and whose family originally came from India, according to the applicant’s father, who declined to be identified.

The new complaints, along with a case appealed in September to the Supreme Court challenging preferences for blacks and Hispanics in college admissions, may stir up the longstanding debate about whether elite universities discriminate against Asian-Americans, the nation’s fastest-growing and most affluent racial category.

Like Jews who faced quotas at Ivy League schools in the first half of the 20th century, Asian-Americans are overrepresented at top universities relative to their population, yet must meet a higher standard than other applicants based on measures such as test scores and high school grades, according to several academic studies.

Harvard “does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants’’ and does not comment on the specifics of complaints under federal review, spokesman Jeff Neal said.

Asian-Americans made up 16 percent of Harvard undergraduates in the 2010-2011 academic year, down from 18 percent in 2005-2006, according to the university’s website.

Princeton is aware of the 2011 complaint and will provide the requested information, university spokesman Martin Mbugua said. The school does not discriminate on the basis of race or national origin, he said.

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