By Arul Louis
New York: US President Donald Trump’s administration is preparing to probe a complaint by four Indian-American organisations and other Asian groups that Harvard University discriminates against students from the communities in its admission process.
Justice Department Spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said on Wednesday the department wants to investigate the “administrative complaint filed by a coalition of 64 Asian-American associations in May 2015 that the prior Administration left unresolved”.
Flores said: “The complaint alleges racial discrimination against Asian-Americans in a university’s admission policy and practices.”
The Global Organisation of Persons of Indian Origin (Gopio), National Federation of Indian-American Associations, American Society of Engineers of Indian Origin, and BITS Sindri Alumni Association of North India were among the 64 Asian groups that jointly filed the federal complaint.
The complaint said: “Many Asian-American students who have almost perfect SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores, top one per cent GPAs (Grade Point Average), plus significant awards or leadership positions in various extracurricular activities have been rejected by Harvard University and other Ivy League Colleges while similarly situated applicants of other races have been admitted.”
SAT is one of the common entrance exams for college admission.
Though officially the affirmative action programmes are meant to aid African American and Latino students, in reality the quota system — similar to reservations in India — has expanded to also helps white students at the expense of Indian and other Asian students.
To ensure diversity, elite universities set academic standards for Asian students that are higher than that for even whites to prevent high-scoring Asians dominating the universities if admissions were based solely on merit.
A study by a Princeton University academic found that Asian-American students had to score 140 points more than whites in the SAT to gain admission to elite universities.
If a comparison is to be made to the Indian situation, Asians would be classified as “most forward” over the “forward” category.
Gopio International Chairman Thomas Abraham said he welcomed the Trump administration’s move to take up the complaint by the Indian and other Asian organisations.
He conceded that there was a need for affirmative action programmes to right the historical injustices done to the African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans and, therefore, he supported it for only those communities.
But “in the general quota for all the others there should not be any discrimination against Indians or Asians,” he added.
“A white kid should not get preferred treatment at the expense of Asians and the general quota should be based solely on merit” and this was the central point in the complaint,” he said.
Under former President Barack Obama, the Education Department dismissed a similar complaint by another organisation, while the Justice Department did not follow up on the complaint made to its Office of Civil Rights that is now being taken up for review.
When it became known that the Justice Department was seeking lawyers to investigate the Asians discrimination suit, some major, mainstream American media twisted it and put out fake news that the Trump administration was preparing to sue universities over affirmative action admissions policies that were seen as discriminating against whites.
Flores denied the reports and said it was only the Asian complaint that was being taken up and that the department “has not received or issued any directive, memorandum, initiative or policy related to university admissions in general”.
“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination,” she added.
A former civil rights official, Vanita Gupta, told The New York Times that the person sought for the investigation will be in “the political front office” and this “suggests that this person will be carrying out an agenda aimed at undermining diversity in higher education without needing to say it”.
Gupta was the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in President Barack Obama’s administration and led the the civil rights division. She is now the President of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.