The Justice Department is probing whether Harvard University improperly uses race as a factor when it admits students — and is threatening to sue the Ivy League school if it refuses to cooperate, according to documents obtained by the Herald.

The government has been demanding admissions documents for two months, which Harvard so far has not provided.

“The United States remains committed to conducting a full, complete, and fair investigation, and to working collaboratively with Harvard to achieve a just and appropriate resolution to this matter,” wrote Matthew Donnelly, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, in a Nov. 17 letter to Harvard lawyers.

Donnelly added that since the federal government requested documents regarding the school’s admissions policy, “Harvard has responded with delays, challenges to our authority to investigate, and a belated, unacceptable proposal to restrict our investigation.”

The federal investigation comes in the midst of an ongoing civil discrimination suit accusing Harvard of limiting Asian-American admissions. The suit by the nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions, filed in 2014, calls for the university to stop “racially and ethnically discriminatory policies.”

According to letters between the DOJ and Harvard attorney Seth Waxman, federal authorities notified the school it was probing its admission practices in September. The school is being investigated under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars institutions that get federal assistance from discriminating based on race, color and national origin.

“More than two months have passed since our September meeting, and Harvard has not yet produced a single document,” wrote John Gore, an acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, in a Nov. 17 letter to Harvard.

Gore added that if the school does not comply “we may file a lawsuit.” A spokesman for the DOJ declined to comment.

Harvard stood by its responses to the DOJ, saying in a statement “the University will certainly comply with its obligations under Title VI.” The school added it also has to “protect the confidentiality of student and applicant files and other highly sensitive records” in the process.

Waxman, who served as solicitor general of the United States from 1997 to 2001, declined to comment.

In letters to the DOJ, Waxman called the document requests “exceptionally unusual,” noting that the federal probe duplicates the ongoing civil litigation.

Edward Blum, of Students for Fair Admissions, said in a statement he “is gratified that the U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the discriminatory admissions policies at Harvard University.” When asked whether he would give federal investigators information he has received from Harvard through the ongoing litigation, Blum said he can’t because a federal judge “has sealed our record and data.”

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(c)2017 the Boston Herald

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