“Rejected Asian students sue Harvard over admissions that favor other minorities.” So reads the headline of a recent report in the Wall Street Journal. According to the report, “Harvard University’s affirmative action policies, which the school says are aimed at achieving diversity on the vaunted campus in Cambridge, discriminate against Asians who often can’t get in despite having higher test scores and grade-point averages than black and Hispanic students who are accepted, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.” The lawsuit cites a 2009 study by Princeton sociologists that concluded that while an Asian American applicant to an elite U.S. college needed at least a 1460 SAT score to be admitted, a white student with similar GPA and other qualifications only needed a score of 1320, and blacks needed just a 1010 and Hispanics an 1190. It is beyond dispute that there would be way more Asians at Harvard (and the rest of the Ivy League) if admissions were based solely upon academic performance. Shocking?
The allegations of the lawsuit are no surprise to anyone who has applied for admission to an American college in the last decade or two, or to anyone else paying attention to higher education in America. The plaintiffs know, everyone knows, that the by-product of “race-norming” and other devices for increasing the diversity of the student body at American colleges has been not just an increase in the number of black admissions and a suppression of white admissions, but also a very-substantial suppression of admissions of applicants of Asian descent. If you want other examples, check out what happened in California when Proposition 209, approved in 1996, prohibited all state government institutions (including UC Berkeley and other public universities) from considering race, gender, or ethnicity for public education. Suddenly, Asian admissions went through the roof. People were almost as shocked as Captain Renault when he discovered gambling in Casablanca.
Had it not been for several generations of propaganda, most would be identifying Harvard’s behavior as racial discrimination. Not discrimination in the original sense of the term (observing that Asians are different from non-Asians), but discrimination against Asians – putting a lid on admissions of Asians, and admitting non-Asians with lower grades and test scores. Granted, test scores and high school grades are not the sole means of predicting future academic achievement, but they are a very big deal. Other, more subjective factors are interesting, and sometimes useful as “tie-breakers” among otherwise similar applicants, but that is not supposed to be what the Ivy League is all about. Why are we giving these elite colleges a pass on their apparent infringements of the civil rights of the Asian community, tacitly endorsing their exercises in social engineering?
For the best case in support of Harvard’s racial discrimination against Asians, do not look to Harvard. Here is Harvard’s limp excuse (set forth in an email from its general counsel to FoxNews.com):
“The College considers each applicant through an individualized, holistic review having the goal of creating a vibrant academic community that exposes students to a wide-range of differences: background, ideas, experiences, talents and aspirations. . . . The University’s admissions processes remain fully compliant with all legal requirements and are essential to the pedagogical objectives that underlie Harvard’s educational mission.”
One can only smile at such mumbo jumbo. Harvard’s goal is a vibrant community that exposes the student to people of different background, ideas, etc. And this vibrancy, this exposure, is essential to Harvard’s pedagogical objectives (what Harvard wants to teach you). So, if you are an Asian who was rejected despite a near- perfect SAT score and an A+ in every regular or AP course taken in high school, your real problem may be that you are not vibrant enough – or that your differentness (being an Asian nerd) is not different enough to make you Harvard material. Do you suppose Harvard has a vibrancy test?
Laughter aside, what to make of such mush? Is “diversity” really such a great idea? Why do some backgrounds and experiences make your intelligence and ideas more useful to your fellow students? Why, exactly, is a somewhat-smart but really-diverse Harvard better for America than a really-smart Harvard that has too many Asians? And of course that is the trade-off that Harvard is making, as it would have no need for racial quotas unless they altered the decisions that would have been made in their absence. Remember, admissions are a zero-sum game – admission slots are limited.
For a fuller explanation than Harvard’s, for an interesting treatment of this entire topic of racial discrimination in the elite-college admissions process, see The Myth of American Meritocracy, How corrupt are Ivy League admissions?, by Ron Unz, in The American Conservative, November 28, 2012: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-myth-of-american-meritocracy/ .
The Unz piece is interesting on many levels. Mr. Unz documents the fact that Harvard (like the rest of the Ivy League) has developed a substantial anti-Asian bias in its admissions process, and notes that this is reminiscent of the anti-Jewish bias that began at Harvard and the other Ivies with the notorious Jewish quota systems that they adopted around 1925 and kept in force until after the end of WW II. The piece then takes a curious turn: the anti-Jewish bias has gradually evolved into what might appear to be a pro-Jewish bias. According to the writer, Just as Asians are substantially under-represented in the Ivies based upon their pre-college academic achievements and standardized test scores, Jews are now substantially over-represented, based upon the same standard.
The writer observes that an Ivy League education (especially one at Harvard, Yale, or Princeton) has become the closest thing to a pure sinecure in contemporary America, a credential so gold-plated that it invites extreme venality in the admissions process. He observes that there is an easily-identifiable super-elite core of young geniuses who are automatic invitees at any school anywhere anytime, regardless of their backgrounds or experiences or race or favorite poem (perhaps 300 of the 1600 slots at Harvard), but that much of the rest of the Ivy League applicant pool (the non-geniuses) is essentially fungible – there is little to distinguish those who are offered those remaining slots from the large numbers of other applicants who do not receive offers; the differences are relatively insubstantial, indeed they are virtually nil from a standpoint of grades and standardized test scores. So, once the geniuses have been identified and earmarked for offers, and the next step is to fill most of the remaining slots, that is where the process breaks down, as most choices serve to repay past or anticipated favors, support the schools’ cultural, social, and political biases (which are uniformly left-wing), or bring along athletes and artists with lower academic qualifications, and that leaves little or no room for offers based on disinterested determinations of intellectual and academic merit. Implied, if not precisely stated by the writer, is that some of those admitted because of quotas or clout are actually inferior to some who were bumped to make room for the kids with quotas or clout on their side. To drive home his point, Mr. Unz points out that CalTech, which is all science and engineering, all day, but has largely eschewed quotas and avoided corruption, has way more Asians than any of the Ivies.
Mr. Unz moves from there to the curious suggestion that the elite schools should break down their applicant pools into the two categories: (i) the geniuses, who are so rare that the Ivies could easily admit them all, with each going to the college of his or her choice; and (ii) the merely terrific, identified through a uniform and objective set of standards that would not include race, religion, political leanings, “clout” (as they call it in Chicago), or the usual resume-building fluff. The non-geniuses would then participate in a true lottery, with each applicant having an equal (albeit remote) shot at winning, and the winners would be allocated randomly among the elite colleges participating in the lottery.
Mr. Unz’s point: the elite colleges are a national resource, and a scarce one. As a result, the elite-school credential has become so outrageously valuable, and the demand is so much greater than the supply, that the application process has become corrupt and dysfunctional, and random selection is the only honest alternative. Even if you defined “elite college” to include not only the Ivies but also MIT, CalTech, Stanford, and a few others, the elites as a whole could not offer nearly enough slots for all the non-genius applicants who currently are being rejected despite having objective credentials that are at least as good as those of the other non-genius applicants who are actually admitted under the present system. Harvard will never have enough room to admit everyone who is Harvard material, but at least the exclusions should be a matter of random chance, rather than racism, corruption, and other forms of social engineering.
This writer’s opinion: through most of the 20th century, Harvard was the symbol of the college for America’s best and brightest: not only did it have its mind-boggling array of areas of concentration (48, at latest count), many of which ranked at or near the top among all American colleges, not only was its faculty an astonishing parade of academic talent and achievement, Harvard also boasted of rejecting more applicants than anyone else: to get into Harvard College, one had to be intellectually brilliant. For much of its history, Harvard has been our national symbol of excellence, with a financial-assistance program designed to ensure that money never became a barrier for any qualified applicant. Do we need a Harvard? Of course we do.
But Harvard has become the instrument of a massive exercise in social engineering: so many blacks, so many whites, so many Asians, Jews, Muslims, and native Americans, so many with personality A, so many with personality B, so many basketball players, violinists, actors, physicists, engineers, writers, etc. All decided on the basis of quotas reflecting a leftist vision of perfect “diversity,” the ideal mix of intelligence and various non-intellectual traits and interests. Harvard has become the academic embodiment of the central-planning mentality that has guided the international left for more than a century, as its admissions process has been blighted by the political and financial corruption that invariably accompanies the central-planning model.
Apparently Harvard is now giving the back of its hand to Asian applicants, a strategy disturbingly reminiscent of its anti-semitic past. Surely Harvard remembers that history, surely it knows about the Berkeley experience. Surely it is aware that one effect of racial and religious discrimination is to degrade the school’s product, to cheapen it, to ensure that a Harvard degree no longer carries its former cachet, to guaranty that its non-Asian admittees will proceed through their adult lives knowing that a big portion of the general population has lost its illusions about how people get into Harvard. Is the grand experiment of social engineering really worth that steep a price?