The Justice Department is examining whether the school rejected some applicants based on race—a claim that’s notoriously difficult to prove.
A coalition of government-ethics watchdogs and civil-rights lawyers on Wednesday received a letter from the DOJ that it argues confirms the investigation. The two nonpartisan groups comprising the coalition—American Oversight and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Law—had in early September submitted a Freedom of Information Act request asking for records related to federal probes into illegal race-conscious admissions practices at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, both of which are the subject of lawsuits filed in 2014 similarly accusing them of such practices. The FOIA request sought clarity in light of an August New York Times article revealing the DOJ had plans to crack down on “intentional race-based discrimination”—plans that the department subsequently said pertained specifically to an existing complaint against Harvard.
While the DOJ’s letter in response to that FOIA application doesn’t explicitly acknowledge the probe into Harvard, the two groups argue that it effectively confirms the investigation by noting that the requested records are exempt from disclosure because they’ve been “compiled for law enforcement purposes.” The department in its letter also says it doesn’t have any records for UNC Chapel Hill, another potential clue the Justice Department is indeed looking into Harvard. (The DOJ’s letter emphasizes that the exemption “should not be taken as an indication that excluded records do or do not exist.”)