Does Harvard University discriminate against Asian-Americans in its admissions process?
That’s the question on trial in a Boston federal courtroom this week. At issue is whether Harvard unfairly discriminated against an Asian-American applicant who says the Ivy League school held him to higher standards than applicants of other races. This trial will also dissect a contentious political issue in higher education: affirmative action.
But what exactly is affirmative action, and how did it become such a controversial issue?
Today in U.S. higher education, affirmative action refers to policies that give students from underrepresented racial groups an advantage in the college admissions process, said Mark Naison, an African-American studies professor who teaches about affirmative action at Fordham University. But that wasn’t the original definition when it was introduced by President John Kennedy in the 1960s.