Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were sued Monday, November 17, by an advocacy group claiming the educational institutions are using race as a factor in its admissions.

Race-Based Admissions Policies

HarvardThe lawsuit argues that both Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill should ban their affirmative action policies, saying the race-based admissions policies violate the constitutional rights of applicants, particularly highly-qualified Asian applicants. The Harvard lawsuit also alleges the Ivy League university has a quota on the number of Asian Americans it admits each year.

Alexandra, Virginia-based legal defense fund The Project on Fair Representation said Monday’s filing is just the first in a series of legal challenges against colleges and universities across the country in a move to ban race-admissions policies completely.

“Allowing this issue to be litigated in case after case will only perpetuate the hostilities that proper consideration of race is designed to avoid,” argues the lawsuits, both of which cite Students for Fair Admissions—a non-profit group based in Austin, Texas which said it represents unidentified college applicants rejected by both institutions—as plaintiff. “Racial preferences are a dangerous tool and may only be used as a last resort.”

Such applicants “understand that they are not competing” against “the entire applicant pool,” the group said in its filing in Boston federal court against Harvard Corp, the university’s governing body. “They are competing only against each other, and all other racial and ethnic groups are insulated from competing against high-achieving Asian Americans.”

Student Body Diversification

UNC-Chapel Hill administrators have also used admissions policies that seeks to achieve diversity in the student body, but it had a detrimental effect on Asian American applicants, alleged a separate suit in Greensboro federal court.

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Students for Fair Admissions claim use of race in admissions allows universities such as Harvard and UNC to show preferences for particular groups. This preference fails to meet standards set by the US Supreme Court in a decision last year which require schools to “implement race-neutral means to achieve student body and diversity before turning to racial classifications and preferences.”

‘Federal Law Compliant’

Both universities released statements defending their admission policies, saying their practice is fully compliant with federal law.

“The university continues to affirm the educational benefits diversity brings to students, as well as the importance of preparing students for a diverse society and assuring a pool of strong state leaders by admitting undergraduates from every background,” said Rick White, spokesperson for UNC-Chapel Hill.

Citing an earlier Supreme Court decision upholding affirmative action, Harvard general counsel Robert Iuliano said the university’s admissions policies “remain fully compliant with all legal requirements and are essential to the pedagogical objectives that underlie Harvard’s educational mission.”

Iuliano cited the Supreme Court’s landmark 1978 decision in Regents of University of California v. Bakke, which upheld affirmative action. He specifically said Harvard’s admissions plan is 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,” he said.

Quota-like System

The lawsuit against Harvard, however, argues the “holistic approach” is a large part of the problem.

“Statistical evidence reveals that Harvard uses ‘holistic’ admissions to disguise the fact that it holds Asian Americans to a far higher standard than other students and essentially forces them to compete against each other for admission,” the lawsuit alleges.

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The lawsuit goes on to allege Harvard practices “racial balancing,” a quota-like system where they enroll “essentially the same percentage” of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, and whites year after year.

The lawsuits are officially known as Students For Fair Admissions Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College et al, 1:14-cv-14176, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston); and Students For Fair Admissions Inc. v. University of North Carolina et al., 1:14-cv-00954, U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina (Greensboro).