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Ron Unz for U.S. Senate

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How Some Would Level the Playing Field: Free Harvard Degrees

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Should Harvard be free?That is the provocative question posed by a slate of candidates running for the Board of Overseers at Harvard, which helps set strategy for the university. They say Harvard makes so much money from its $37.6 billion endowment that it should stop charging tuition to undergraduates.

But they have tied the notion to another, equally provocative question: Does Harvard shortchange Asian-Americans in admissions?

Their argument is that if Harvard were free, more highly qualified students from all backgrounds would apply, and the university would no longer have trouble balancing its class for racial or ethnic diversity — making sure, they say, that Asian-Americans do not lose out.

The slate of five candidates was put together by Ron Unz, a conservative California software entrepreneur who has sponsored ballot initiatives opposing bilingual education. Although the campaign, “Free Harvard, Fair Harvard,” includes one left-leaning member — the consumer advocate Ralph Nader — Mr. Unz and the other three candidates have written or testified extensively against affirmative action, opposing race-based admissions.

Their positions are in lock step with claims in a federal lawsuit accusing the university of discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions. Harvard has denied the accusations.

Coincidence or not, the plaintiffs in that case are seeking from Harvard exactly what the Unz slate wants: disclosure of data showing how the university’s freshman class is selected each year.

The politically charged data holds the potential to reveal whether Harvard bypasses better-qualified Asian-American candidates in favor of whites, blacks, Hispanics and the children of the wealthy and powerful, the group argues.

“Our focus is entirely on greater transparency in admissions,” Mr. Unz said, “namely urging Harvard to provide much more detailed information on how they select the very small slice of applicants receiving offers of admission, in order to curb the huge potential abuse possible under the entirely opaque system.”