Harvard’s Legal Fees Exceed $40 Million in Defending ‘Race-Conscious’ Admissions Policy

By GQ Pan
GQ Pan
GQ Pan
Reporter
September 21, 2021 Updated: September 21, 2021

An ongoing lawsuit challenging Harvard University’s “race-conscious” admissions policy has resulted in at least $40 million in legal fees, and the Ivy League school is suing a secondary insurer that allegedly refused to cover some of those costs.

Harvard has at least two insurance companies that cover potential legal costs, according to student newspaper The Harvard Crimson. As the university continues to defend its use of race-based admissions, it had gone past the $25 million limit through its primary liability insurance policy with AIG, which allegedly triggered a secondary insurance policy it has with Zurich, which is unwilling to pay for the remaining $15 million.

Zurich has denied responsibility for Harvard’s legal fees incurred from the admissions lawsuit, claiming that the school failed to provide sufficient prior notice, according to Harvard’s brief filed on Sept. 17 in a Boston federal court reviewed by the Crimson. Harvard’s attorneys contended that claim, arguing that Zurich “had knowledge of” the case because of widespread media coverage.

The dispute over Harvard’s admissions policy was first raised in 2014 by advocacy group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), on behalf of a coalition of students who claimed to have been rejected from Harvard because of their Asian ancestry. In 2020, the Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit upheld a lower court decision that it is not discriminatory when Harvard considers an applicant’s race as one factor in its admissions process, prompting the SFFA to take the legal battle to the highest court.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court called on the Biden administration to weigh in on whether to take up the case. In an unsigned order, the high court requested the acting solicitor general, Elizabeth Prelogar, “to file a brief in this case expressing the views of the United States.”

The U.S. Department of Justice under the Trump administration backed the suing students. It also filed a separate lawsuit against Yale University over alleged discrimination against white and Asian-American applicants in its admissions process, but dropped the suit shortly after the Biden administration took office.

Harvard in May requested that the Supreme Court not revisit the lower court ruling. The university accused the SFFA of trying to undermine its efforts to make its student population racially diverse, arguing that a race-neutral admissions policy would hurt the already underrepresented black and Hispanic students.

“If Harvard were to abandon race-conscious admissions, African-American and Hispanic representation would decline by nearly half,” the court filing (pdf) reads. “Such declines would seriously undermine Harvard’s educational goals, and even SFFA’s expert agreed such declines would be unacceptable.”

GQ Pan
Reporter