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Harvard’s admissions practices are under US government investigation

AP Photo/Steven Senne
Race-related policies are likely the target.
By Amy X. Wang
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

As of this fall, Harvard’s first-year class comprises—for the first time in history—a majority non-white population. Diversity-championing activists were thrilled at the news. But, it seems, the federal government was not.

Yesterday, BuzzFeed News reported that the US Justice Department is involved in an active investigation into admissions practices at Harvard. That comes after an internal document was obtained in August by the New York Times showed that the department—via an office staffed by president Donald Trump’s political appointees, rather than the groups that typically handle education-related matters—planned to investigate and potentially sue universities over “intentional race-based discrimination.”

In response to Freedom of Information Act requests from watchdog groups, the Justice Department revealed in a letter (pdf) that it is looking into policies at Harvard—though, citing potential interference with “law enforcement purposes,” it declined to provide more details about the investigation. Neither the department nor Harvard have responded to various news organizations’ requests for comment.

But there are signs suggesting that the Justice Department’s probe into Harvard’s admissions office is specifically focused on the school’s race-related practices, i.e. affirmative-action policies. After the internal document was leaked in August, the department issued a statement saying its actions are in response to allegations of discrimination against Asian-American applicants at Harvard—a complicated issue, raised multiple times in recent years by applicants who believe their racial overrepresentation in the applicant pool unfairly affected their chances, that once again puts the future of the US’s longstanding affirmative-action policies into teetering uncertainty.

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