U.S. charges former Harvard fencing coach, businessman with bribery scheme

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) – A former Harvard University fencing coach and the chief executive of a telecommunications company were arrested on Monday on charges that they engaged in a bribery scheme aimed at securing the admission of the businessman’s two sons to the Ivy League school.

Federal prosecutors in Boston said that Jie “Jack” Zhao paid more than $1.5 million in bribes so that Peter Brand, the former coach, would help his sons get into Harvard by recruiting them to the men’s fencing team.

The charges followed an investigative report by the Boston Globe last year into how Brand sold his home to Zhao for over its assessed market value. Harvard in July 2019 fired the longtime coach following the report.

The Globe’s report came a month after federal prosecutors in March 2019 unveiled the first charges in the U.S. college admissions scandal, in which wealthy parents engaged in bribery and cheating schemes to secure spots for their children at selective universities.

That investigation has led to charges against 57 people, including celebrities and corporate executives. U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling called the latest case “part of our long-standing effort to expose and deter corruption in college admissions.”

Lawyers for Brand and Zhao, who co-founded iTalk Global Communications Inc, did not respond to requests for comment.

Prosecutors said that in 2013, Zhao made a $1 million donation to a fencing charity operated by an unnamed co-conspirator that, in turn, contributed $100,000 to a foundation established by Brand and his wife.

Zhao also paid for Brand’s car, made college tuition payments for his son, paid the mortgage on his home and later bought the residence from the coach for above its market value, prosecutors said.

That purchase allowed Brand to buy a more expensive home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which Zhao paid to renovate, they said.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. court upholds Harvard race-based admissions; Supreme Court appeal expected

By Nate Raymond and Jonathan Stempel

BOSTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Thursday upheld Harvard University’s use of race in undergraduate admissions, rejecting a challenge by affirmative action opponents who said the Ivy League school’s policy discriminates against Asian-Americans.

Opponents of the decision by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston promised to appeal to the Supreme Court, where legal experts believe the 6-3 conservative majority could use the case to end more than 40 years of allowing race as a factor in higher education admissions.

The appeals court rejected claims by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a nonprofit founded by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum, which drew support from Republican President Donald Trump’s administration.

SFFA said Harvard engaged in impermissible “racial balancing” to make it easier for Blacks and Hispanics to win admission, and did not narrowly tailor its use of race.

It said this violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which the school must comply with in order to receive federal funding.

U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch, however, said Harvard’s use of race was not “impermissibly extensive” and was instead “meaningful,” because it prevented diversity from plummeting.

“Harvard’s race-conscious admissions program ensures that Harvard can retain the benefits of diversity it has already achieved,” she said.

Blum in a statement pledged to ask the Supreme Court “to end these unfair and unconstitutional race-based admissions policies at Harvard and all colleges and universities.”

The Supreme Court has allowed race to be used in college admissions to promote diversity in the classroom.

Harvard spokeswoman Rachael Dane said Thursday’s decision reflected efforts to “create a diverse campus that promotes learning and encourages mutual respect and understanding. … Now is not the time to turn back the clock on diversity and opportunity.”

The 2-0 decision upheld an October 2019 ruling by U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston. A third judge on the appeals court panel, Juan Torruella, died last month.

Burroughs had concluded that Harvard’s admissions program was “not perfect” but that it the school had no “workable and available race-neutral alternatives.”

Lynch said the nature of Harvard’s admissions process, including that applicants win approval from a 40-person committee before being offered admission, “offset any risk of bias.”

The U.S. Justice Department had under Trump backed SFFA, arguing in a “friend-of-the-court” brief that Harvard “actively engages in racial balancing that Supreme Court precedent flatly forbids.”

The Trump administration filed a similar lawsuit on Oct. 8 against Yale University, accusing that Ivy League school of discriminating against Asian and white applicants.

Yale said it “does not discriminate against applicants of any race or ethnicity,” and would not change its admissions policies because of what it called the government’s “baseless” lawsuit.

SFFA is also pursuing a similar case against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill challenging its consideration of race as a factor in its admissions process. A non-jury trail in that case began on Monday.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Catherine Evans and Jonathan Oatis)

Harvard, MIT seek temporary halt to Trump administration rule on international students

By Mimi Dwyer

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Trump administration on Wednesday, seeking to block a new rule that would bar foreign students from remaining in the United States if their universities move all courses online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The two universities filed a lawsuit in federal court in Boston asking for an emergency temporary restraining order on the new directive issued by the government on Monday.

“We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students – and international students at institutions across the country – can continue their studies without the threat of deportation,” Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote in a statement addressed to the Harvard community.

The lawsuit filed by Harvard and MIT, two of the most elite U.S. universities, is the first to challenge the order that could force tens of thousands of foreign students to leave the country if their schools switch fully to remote learning.

Harvard had announced it would hold all classes online in the coming fall term.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing schools across the country to re-open in the fall.

The Trump administration announcement blindsided academic institutions grappling with the logistical challenges of safely resuming classes as the coronavirus pandemic continues unabated around the world, and surges in the United States, especially among young people.

There are more than a million foreign students at U.S. colleges and universities, and many schools depend on revenue from foreign students, who often pay full tuition.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency rule said most students on F-1 and M-1 visas could stay if their programs were in person or offered a mix of online and in-person instruction.

In the wake of the announcement, students, professors, and universities were scrambling to figure out exactly who would be affected by the rule and come up with ways to comply without having to leave the country. On Twitter, professors across the country offered to teach outdoor in-person independent study courses for affected students.

The ICE policy change marked an unexpected reversal of exceptions to the rules limiting online learning for foreign students when colleges and universities in March rushed to shutter campuses and move to virtual classes as the pandemic forced lockdowns.

ICE “proceeded without any indication of having considered the health of students, faculty, university staff, or communities,” the complaint said.

The suit alleges the government skirted the proper rule making process and is asking the court to strike it down.

Judge Allison Burroughs, appointed by former President Barack Obama, is assigned to hear the case. In 2017, she ordered a halt to Trump’s travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries, a policy that was eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer in New York; Additional reporting by Dan Burns and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Bernadette Baum)