When evaluating applicants from among the large pool of academically qualified students who seek a place in the freshman class, Harvard—like many of the country’s best universities—considers applicants as whole people, not just as grades and test scores.
In November 2014, an organization known as Students for Fair Admissions sued Harvard, seeking to prevent Harvard and other universities from using a flexible, thorough and well-rounded admissions process that considers the whole person. If the lawsuit succeeds, all students would likely have diminished opportunities for educational experiences informed by a diverse campus community—the kind of education that is so important for success in our diverse society.
This litigation is currently in the process of discovery following the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin. Harvard and Harvard deans and professors filed several briefs in support of the University of Texas when the Supreme Court considered the Fisher case, including briefs by Harvard University, Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow, Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor James Ryan, and many Harvard professors and academic researchers.
Selected case filings:
- Original complaint
- Harvard's answer
- Harvard's amicus filing for Fisher II
- Harvard's motion for judgment on the pleadings
- Harvard's motion to dismiss (redacted)
"...for many if not most of those arriving at Harvard for the first time, this is the most varied community in which they have ever lived—perhaps ever will live. People of different races, religions, ethnicities, nationalities, political views, gender identities, sexual orientations. We celebrate these differences as an integral part of everyone’s education—whether for a first year student in the College or an aspiring MD or MBA or LLM—or for a member of the faculty or staff, who themselves are always learners too.
"As the 2015-16 academic year begins, Harvard confronts a lawsuit that touches on its most fundamental values, a suit that challenges our admissions processes and our commitment to a widely diverse student body. Our vigorous defense of our procedures and of the kind of educational experience they are intended to create will cause us to speak frequently and forcefully about the importance of diversity in the months to come."
~President Drew Faust in her morning prayers address at the opening of the year. Read the full speech on the President's page.
“To become leaders in our diverse society, students today must have the ability to work with people from different backgrounds, life experiences and perspectives. Many colleges across America – including Harvard College – receive applications from far more highly qualified individuals each year than they can possibly admit.
“When choosing among academically qualified applicants, colleges must continue to have the freedom and flexibility to consider each person’s unique backgrounds and life experiences in order to provide the rigorous, enriching, and diverse campus environments that expand the horizons of all students. In doing so, American higher education institutions can continue to give every undergraduate exposure to peers with a deep and wide variety of academic interests, viewpoints, and talents in order to better challenge their own assumptions and develop the skills they need to succeed, and to lead, in an ever more diverse workforce and an increasingly interconnected world.”
~Robert Iuliano, senior vice president and general counsel of Harvard in a statement on Harvard's filing of an amicus brief in Fisher II. Read the Harvard Gazette’s coverage of the amicus brief.
“In today’s diverse society, it is more important than ever to be able to live, work and interact with people with different backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives. At Harvard, we strive to foster a diverse campus community that prepares our students to thrive as citizens and as leaders in an increasingly connected world and global economy. We are pleased that today’s Supreme Court’s ruling in Fisher v. the University of Texas has upheld this integral value.”
~President Drew Faust in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that allowed the University of Texas at Austin to continue to consider the racial and ethnic backgrounds of academically qualified applicants as part of a whole person admissions review. Read the Harvard Gazette’s coverage of the ruling.