Justice Department investigating Harvard over affirmative action policies

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People walk past the John Harvard statue at Harvard University’s main campus December 19, 2000 in Cambridge, MA. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Newsmakers) via Getty

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The Justice Department is actively investigating Harvard University’s use of race in its admissions policies and has concluded the school is “out of compliance” with federal law, according to documents obtained by CNN.

Two letters from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division indicate that Harvard has challenged the department’s authority to investigate, and further state that if the school fails to provide documents to the department by December 1, the agency may file a lawsuit against the school.

The Justice Department’s interest in Harvard’s policies stems from a 2015 federal complaint that accuses the school of discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions. When The New York Times reported in August that the Justice Department was looking for lawyers to work on “possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions,” the department said that the posting was related to an ongoing case rolled over from the Obama administration.

“The posting sought volunteers to investigate one administrative complaint filed by a coalition of 64 Asian-American associations in May 2015 that the prior administration left unresolved,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement at the time.

“The complaint alleges racial discrimination against Asian-Americans in a university’s admissions policy and practices. This Department of Justice has not received or issued any directive, memorandum, initiative, or policy related to university admissions in general. The Department of Justice is committed to protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination,” she had said.

But these more recent letters from the Justice Department, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, mark the first confirmation that the school is currently under investigation.

“The Department of Justice takes seriously any potential violation of an individual’s civil and constitutional rights, but we will not comment at this time,” Justice Department spokesperson Devin O’Malley told CNN in a statement.

Harvard’s attorney, Seth Waxman, did not immediately return CNN’s request for comment.

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