Justice Department Accuses Harvard of Failing to Cooperate in Affirmative Action Probe

Harvard University t-shirts for sale in Harvard Square in Cambridge Massachusetts

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) is reportedly investigating Harvard University's use of race in its admissions process.

The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division sent a letter to Harvard dated November 17 notifying the school it is being investigated under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Schools that are in violation of Title VI can be cut off from federal funds.

Additional correspondence obtained by CNN shows that the Justice Department formally notified Harvard it was under investigation on September 20 and since that time, lawyers for the agency and the school have been trading letters over the scope of the department's document requests, despite what Harvard noted were "its concerns about the highly unusual nature of this investigation".

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Harvard University over claims that it intentionally limits the number of Asian-American students it accepts.

"We sincerely hope that Harvard will quickly correct its non-compliance and return to its collaborative approach", the letter said, giving Harvard a new deadline of December 1.

In a separate letter, John Gore, acting assistant attorney general in theCivil Rights Division, said that more than two months had passed without Harvard supplying a single document, and that the university was out of compliance with its obligations under Title VI.

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The Journal reported that the DOJ is investigating similar allegations to a 2014 civil lawsuit filed by Students for Fair Admissions, which said the university admissions practices were in violation of us civil rights law and discriminated against Asian Americans.

The DOJ previously posted a job opening for lawyers willing to investigate another 2015 complaint Asian American students filed that alleges racial bias in Harvard's acceptance policies. These are claims also made in a 2014 federal court case filed by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions, which remains pending.

According to the Wall Street Journal report, a successful investigation could result in Harvard being forced to change their admissions policies. But critics said the ruling was narrow enough that other lawsuits could be filedto challenge affirmative action.

"The university will certainly comply with its obligations under Title VI", Harvard spokeswoman Anna Cowenhoven said in a statement on Tuesday. It stressed that it is not subject to redaction requirements and would not allow "entities under investigation to dictate what information qualifies as relevant to the investigation".

The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly on affirmative action cases in higher education, most recently in June 2016, when it upheld a University of Texas policy that enables race to be a factor in admission decisions.

The school said earlier this year that just over half of the freshmen admitted in 2017 were women, more than one in five was Asian and nearly 15 percent African-American.

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