A lawsuit against Harvard on behalf of Asian-American students moved a step further on Tuesday as a US district judge proposed a tentative October trial date and suggested ground rules for admissions records to be made public in upcoming months.
Lawyers for Harvard and the group known as Students for Fair Admissions have disagreed over the breadth of confidential materials to be opened in the dispute over how students earn a place at the prestigious Ivy League campus.
“This is an important and closely watched civil rights case. The public has a right to know exactly what is going on at Harvard,” the Students for Fair Admissions challengers, represented by William Consovoy, asserted in a letter to Judge Allison Burroughs leading up to Tuesday’s hearing.
Their lawsuit alleges that Harvard unlawfully caps the number of high achieving Asian-American students admitted. Engineered by a longtime critic of all racial affirmative action policies, the case more broadly seeks to reverse a 1978 US Supreme Court decision that first endorsed practices favoring blacks and other historically disadvantaged minorities to promote campus diversity.
The group had wanted to make public selected documents obtained from Harvard with a summary-judgment motion due in June.
Harvard, represented in court by William Lee, says the university should be able to screen any material to be cited from the 90,000 pages of confidential material turned over during the discovery phase, to ensure there’s no breach of student privacy or other university interests.
Burroughs on Tuesday agreed with Harvard that the materials should first be reviewed in a private court process, but she said she expected most of the relevant materials to be made public and warned against heavy redactions, paragraphs of blacked-out type.
“I hope the document won’t be incomprehensible to someone trying to read it,” she said.
Burroughs said she expected the litigation at this stage to come down to “a fairly fact-intensive inquiry” of experts’ views regarding the Harvard admissions process.