November 2, 2018 / 10:00 AM / 10 months ago

Harvard to defend practices as Asian-American bias trial ends

BOSTON, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Harvard University and a group accusing it of discriminating against Asian-American applicants are expected to deliver their closing arguments on Friday in a trial that could have wider implications for the role of race in U.S. college admissions.

The trial in federal court in Boston has pitted the Ivy League school against Students for Fair Admissions, or SFFA, which was founded by an anti-affirmative action activist and whose case is backed by the Trump administration.

The non-jury trial before U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs has provided a rare look into how the private, Cambridge, Massachusetts-based university selects applicants from a pool of about 40,000 annually for about 1,600 seats.

Legal experts have said the case has the potential to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, giving the newly cemented five-member conservative majority a chance to bar the use of affirmative action to help minority applicants get into college.

In previous rulings on affirmative action, which aims to offset historic patterns of racial discrimination, the Supreme Court allowed colleges to include race as one factor among others in assessing applicants.

But SFFA alleges Harvard went further than the court has allowed by engaging in “racial balancing,” and keeping Asian-American admissions at or under 20 percent annually in the years before SFFA sued in 2014.

Harvard denies the allegations and says its approach to promoting student body diversity is in keeping with Supreme Court precedent.

SFFA is headed by Edward Blum, an activist involved in other cases that have challenged the use of race in colleges admissions.

The U.S. Justice Department launched a related probe of Harvard after Republican President Donald Trump took office last year. It has backed SFFA’s case, saying Harvard has not seriously considered race-neutral approaches to admissions. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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