Activist fights Harvard on Asian Americans' admissions

Updated: 2015-04-28 15:42

By MAY ZHOU in Houston(China Daily USA)

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Activist fights Harvard on Asian Americans' admissions

From left: David Cao, Houston Chinese Alliance (HCA) board member; Edward Blum, head of Students for Fair Admissions; Sun Ying, HCA president; and vice-president Howard Xu discuss a lawsuit against Harvard University over its admissions practices in regards to Asian students. May Zhou / China Daily

The man behind the lawsuit against Harvard University's admission of Asian Americans spoke in Houston about his effort in abolishing race as a college admissions criterion.

The Houston Chinese Alliance (HCA) invited Edward Blum, head of Students for Fair Admissions, to speak on April 25. A website set up to solicit cases of alleged discrimination from Asian-American students, according to Blum.

"We have attracted more than 300 students coming out to share their stories," Blum said. "We have stories where a valedictorian with high test scores, extensive AP (Advanced Placement classes) exposure, debate award and such, was denied by Harvard."

One Asian-American student and his family decided to be plaintiffs in the case against Harvard. The lawsuit, filed in November 2014, alleges that the university's admissions policy is a quota system in disguise that discriminates against Asian-Americans.

Blum said the student plaintiff, who chose to remain anonymous, is now studying at the University of California in Berkeley.

"How to make it impossible for colleges to use race in admission, this is the purpose of the current lawsuit," Blum said. "We want the admission process to erase the ‘Race' box, redact the names of the applicants so as to not give any clue to the ethnicity of the applicant."

Harvard has responded to the lawsuit; the case is in the discovery process. The plaintiff is requesting all the admission files from Harvard, but how much can be obtained remains to be seen, Blum said.

He expects the discovery process will last more than a year before the case goes to trial.

"The course of litigation will be long and arduous, but we are prepared to take it all the way to the Supreme Court," Blum said.

According to Blum, when race was used as one criterionin college admissions in California, in 1992 Cal Tech's Asian-American admissions rate was 13 percent. After Proposition 209 was passed in 1996 making it illegal for universities to consider an applicant's demographics, the Asian-American admission rate reached 40 percent in 2012. Similar data also were foundatthe University of California in Berkeley.

Blum said that Harvard stopped disclosing admissions rates by race in 2003, but available data indicate that the Asian-American student body has remained a steady 17-19 percent on campus.

"If race is not a factor in admission, I bet Harvard would have a similar Asian-American student admission rate of 40%, just like Cal Tech and UC Berkeley," Blum said.

SFFA hasset up two other websites: and A lawsuit against the University of North Carolina was filed at the same time as the Harvard lawsuit. Awilling plaintiff is yet to be found for another lawsuit, against the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Blum said.

"Asians are being penalized in prestigious universities," he said. "The current admission policy raises the bar for some, lowers the bar for others; this is unfair and un-American. The time has come that America has become so multiracial that race should not be a factor in admission at all."

Blum explained that a willing plaintiff needs to put only his or her name on the lawsuit. The rest of the legal work will be carried out by the non-profit Project for Fair Representation.

"We estimate that the legal fee will be $1 million a year, and this will take several years; people can help us by giving financial support," Blum said.

Sun Yingying, chairwoman of the HCA, said that her organization has passed a resolution to support the lawsuits: "The unfairness in college admission is very obvious," she said."If the lawsuit could be won, it will help Asians. I hope more Asians will join us in this effort and fight for our own interest."

David Cao, a lawyer and HCA board member, called Blum "the lone ranger in the crusade and the driving force in the long march". Cao said the impact of the cases will be far-reaching, and all Asians should extend a helping hand.

Robert Iuliano, Harvard University General Counsel, made comment in response to the lawsuit: "In his seminal opinion in Regents of University of California v. Bakke, Justice Powell specially cited to 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. The University's admissions processes remain fully compliant with all legal requirements and are essential to the pedagogical objectives that underlie Harvard's educational mission."