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Alumni Coalition Opposes Harvard Overseer Slate

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FOLLOWING THE ANNOUNCEMENT of a five-person petition slate of candidates in this spring’s voting for members of Harvard’s Board of Overseers, and certification of the petitioners for placement on the ballot, a number of alumni have formed an opposing Coalition for a Diverse Harvard.

The coalition is aiming squarely at the petitioners’ “Free Harvard/Fair Harvard”platform (“abolishing tuition and increasing admissions transparency at Harvard College”). The coalition makes the case that the petition slate’s central issue is opposition to the University’s ability to consider applicants’ merits and characteristics broadly, in an effort to create a deliberately diverse student body. The coalition’s website frames the petitioners’ challenge this way:

Issues of diversity—particularly racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity—at Harvard and beyond have been pushed to the fore of the upcoming Harvard Overseers election….

As reported in The New York Times [in the mid January article that announced the petition slate], four of the petition slate’s five candidates “have written or testified extensively against affirmative action,” and “several [members of the group] are known for their past advocacy against using race in admissions.” “Their positions are in lock step with claims in a federal lawsuit” that if successful, Harvard says, “would overturn its efforts to build a racially diverse class.”

As Harvard alumni and students, we call on members of the Harvard community to join this Coalition against the petition slate—and in favor of race-conscious and holistic admissions practices that support campus diversity.

We support a process that seeks to admit students whose unique passions, talents, and personal qualities from across geographies, socioeconomic backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, religions, and racial and ethnic backgrounds will contribute to Harvard’s greater sense of community.

Assembling a diverse student body and creating an environment where all students can thrive is central to Harvard’s mission of improving the quality of education and creating successful citizens and leaders in a diverse nation and world. We believe there is no formula that can create this special mix of individuals, nor can the merit of the individuals be measured by test scores or grades alone.

Framed this way, the campaign—and it now appears there will be a vigorous one, waged through social media and perhaps other channels—juxtaposes contending worldviews about diversity, affirmative action, and the parameters applied in undergraduate admissions. That brings into the Overseers’ election some of the issues being fought out in continuing litigation about higher-education admissions practices:

  • the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case reargued before the U.S. Supreme Court last fall, now awaiting a decision, which aims directly at the use of race as an admissions criterion at public institutions; and
  • the Project on Fair Representation-organized lawsuit filed against Harvard, a privateinstitution, seeking “the outright prohibition of racial preferences in university admissions—period.”