Recently Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal gave us a somewhat different take on the perverse arguments for affirmative action in higher education admissions with his very provocative essay, “The New Jews of Harvard Admissions”. A new take because, unlike the experience of other minorities, it is a perspective from the point of view of alleged admission discrimination against Asian-American students who are consistently at the top of the applicant pool in almost every measurement of student achievement.
The complaint, based on the appeal of 64 groups to the Department of Education, is that Harvard University is discriminating against Asian-American applicants by holding them to higher standards to keep them from growing as a percentage of the student body, a charge that is analogous to similar charges levied against elite institutions early in the last century for discrimination against Jews.
In a recent interview of Florida businessman Yukong Zhao, one of the organizers of the groups making the appeal, by Kate Bachelder, it appears that their case is a pretty good one. The share of college-age Asian-Americans in the U. S. population has risen from 3% in 1990 to 5% in 2011 and members of this 5% make up approximately 30% of National Merit semifinalists, while Harvard admissions do not come close to reflecting these gains. In fact, this spring 21% of the students admitted were Asian-American; in 1993 it was approximately 20%.
Harvard, like many institutions (which unfortunately include my alma mater, UT-Austin) that are pained to live with convoluted affirmative action court rulings that continue to allow racial considerations, uses a “holistic” approach, meaning consideration of a number of subjective factors in addition to grades and exam scores, which of course can include racial and ethnic considerations in the interest of the claim of “diversity” as a compelling state interest. What is interesting in the interview with Mr. Zhao is the comparison with those institutions that do not permit any consideration of race or ethnicity in admissions. For example, Cal Tech’s share of Asian-American students rose to 42.5% in 2013, double Harvard’s and a large increase from 26% in 1993. At Cal-Berkeley, the share is more than 30%, and it is instructive here to note that California banned its state schools from using racial preferences in 1996. Similar comparisons appear very consistent across the board and it’s pretty hard not to sense what Mr. Zhao calls a “de facto quota system”, however difficult it might be to prove.
Even more compelling is a 2009 study by Princeton sociologists noted by Riley that found that Asian-Americans have the lowest acceptance rate for each SAT test score bracket, having to score 140 points higher than a white student, 270 points higher than a Hispanic student, and 450 points higher than a black student to be on equal footing with these ethnic groups. If this isn’t a flagrant double standard, how would we define one?
In an exchange of letters to the editor commenting on Jason Riley’s essay, one reader writes of an acquaintance who defended affirmative action policy by stating, “We must have some kind of affirmative action, otherwise Cal-Berkeley will end up 90% Asian!” To which his reply was, so what? Exactly my sentiments.
Just this week, the Department of Education dismissed the complaint from the 64 groups, citing pending litigation on the issue. But the only pending suit is one against Harvard and the University of North Carolina and now these schools have filed motions to halt the suit until the Supreme Court rules on the reconsideration of Fisher v. University of Texas, which won’t be until well into 2016. This is obviously another attempt to drag out the process until the schools get a blessing for race-based admissions. At this point it should be clear that we should end this charade and terminate these perverse admissions practices now.