Asian groups file federal complaint against Harvard over admission practices

Aug. 30, 2012: In this file photo, people tour on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Aug. 30, 2012: In this file photo, people tour on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.  (AP)

An alliance of Asian American groups filed a federal complaint Friday against Harvard University, claiming that the school and other Ivy League institutions are using racial quotas to admit students other than high-scoring Asians.

More than 60 Chinese, Indian, Korean and Pakistani groups came together for the complaint, which was filed with the civil rights offices at the Justice and Education departments. The groups are calling for an investigation and say these schools need to stop using racial quotas or racial balancing in admission.

"We are seeking equal treatment regardless of race," said Chunyan Li, a professor and civil rights activist, who said they'd rather universities use income rather than race in affirmative action policies.

Harvard says its admissions approach has been found to be “fully compliant federal law.” Officials also say the number of Asian students admitted increased from 17.6 percent to 21 percent in the last decade.

"We will vigorously defend the right of Harvard, and other universities, to continue to seek the educational benefits that come from a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions," said Robert Iuliano, Harvard's general counsel.

Iuliano pointed to the Super Court’s landmark 1978 decision in Regents of University of California vs. Bakke, which upheld affirmative action and specifically cited Harvard’s admissions plan as a “legally sound approach” to admissions.

The federal suits say that Harvard and UNC rely on race-based affirmative action policies that impact admissions of high-achieving white and Asian American students. The Harvard lawsuit also alleges that the institution specifically curbs the number of Asian Americans it admits each year.

Yukong Zhao, who organized the groups for Friday's complaint, challenged Harvard to open its admission books to prove that Asians were not purposefully being put at a disadvantage. "We want to help this country move forward," Zhao said.

Other Asian American groups and officials also released statements supporting affirmative action, including two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. "Neither of us believes that any racial or ethnic group should be subjected to quotas," Commissioners Michael Yaki and Karen Narasaki said. "Nor do we believe that test scores alone entitle anyone to admission at Harvard. Students are more than their test scores and grades."

The Associated Press contributed to this report