by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
A group of Asian-Americans has filed a civil rights suit alleging racial bias in Harvard’s admissions practices. As a recent New York Times article explains, regardless of how the case is ultimately resolved by the courts, the plaintiffs’ evidence makes it perfectly clear that Harvard has indeed been discriminating against Asians in order to preserve what it regards as the “right” kind of racial and social atmosphere.
Here are some excerpts from the article:
In a deposition … [an] attorney for Students for Fair Admissions, the nonprofit group representing a dozen Asian-Americans denied admission by Harvard, confronts the assistant principal of Stuyvesant High School with evidence that white students applying to Harvard in 2014 from her school were more than twice as likely to be admitted to the university as were her Asian-American students.
The assistant principal, Casey Pedrick, starts to cry.
Q. I’m sorry this is upsetting to you. Do you want to take a break?
A. (Witness shakes her head no.)
Q. You want to keep going? Do you want to tell me why this is so upsetting to you?
A. Because these numbers make it seem like there’s discrimination, and I love these kids, and I know how hard they work. So these just look like numbers to all you guys, but I see their faces. …
Earlier this month, we learned that a review of more than 160,000 individual student files contained in six years of Harvard’s admissions data found that Asians outperformed all other racial groups on every measure of academic achievement: grades, SAT scores and the most AP exams passed. They had more extracurricular activities than their white counterparts. They were rated by interviewers who had met them as virtually on par with their white counterparts in their personal qualities. Yet Harvard admissions officers, many of whom had never met these applicants, scored them collectively as the worst of all groups in the one area — personality — that was subjective enough to be readily manipulable to serve Harvard’s institutional interests.
The report by the plaintiff’s expert witness, the Duke University economist Peter Arcidiacono, revealed that Harvard evaluated applicants on the extent to which they possessed the following traits: likability, helpfulness, courage, kindness, positive personality, people like to be around them, the person is widely respected. Asian-Americans, who had the highest scores in both the academic and extracurricular ratings, lagged far behind all other racial groups in the degree to which they received high ratings on the personality score. …
“Asian-American applicants receive a 2 or better on the personal score more than 20% of the time only in the top academic index decile. By contrast, white applicants receive a 2 or better on the personal score more than 20% of the time in the top six deciles,” wrote Mr. Arcidiacono. “Hispanics receive such personal scores more than 20% of the time in the top seven deciles, and African Americans receive such scores more than 20% of the time in the top eight deciles.”
Even if the very worst stereotypes about Asians were true on average, it beggars belief that one could arrive at divergences as dramatic as the ones Mr. Arcidiacono documents by means of unbiased evaluation.
The Asian-American population has more than doubled over the last 20 years, yet the Asian-American share in the student populations at Harvard has remained frozen. Harvard has maintained since the 1980s, when claims of anti-Asian discrimination in Ivy League admissions first surfaced, that there is no racial bias against Asian-Americans once you control the preferences offered to athletes and alumni.
The discovery process in this case has demonstrated that this claim is no longer supportable.
Mr. Arcidiacono found that an otherwise identical applicant bearing an Asian-American male identity with a 25 percent chance of admission would have a 32 percent chance of admission if he were white, a 77 percent chance of admission if he were Hispanic, and a 95 percent chance of admission if he were black. A report from Harvard’s own Office of Institutional Research found that even after alumni and athletic preferences were factored in, Asians would be accepted at a rate of 26 percent, versus the 19 percent at which they were actually accepted. That report, commissioned back in 2013, was summarily filed away, with no further investigation or action taken.
No innocuous explanation can account for the extent of these disparities. Yet Harvard is insisting that those who call it what it plainly is — racial discrimination — are advancing a “divisive agenda.”
On June 12, Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, sent an email to all alumni of the college warning of a forthcoming attempt to use “misleading, selectively presented data taken out of context” in order to “question the integrity of the undergraduate admissions process.” The statement promised to “react swiftly and thoughtfully to defend diversity as the source of our strength and our excellence — and to affirm the integrity of our admissions process.” …
The conclusion is unavoidable: In order to sustain this system, Harvard admissions systematically denigrated the highest achieving group of students in America. Asian-Americans have been collateral damage in the university’s quest to sustain its paradoxical mission to grow its $37 billion endowment and remain the world’s most exclusive institution — all while incessantly preaching egalitarian doctrines.
Now you may feel a certain amount of sympathy for Harvard. After all, as Bill Clinton once observed, when he was defending the University of California’s practice of discriminating against Asians, without such discrimination, “There are universities in California that could fill their entire freshman classes with nothing but Asian Americans.” It may seem reasonable to you for Harvard to want to maintain the traditional social character of its community, and, to that end, you may feel it’s reasonable for Harvard to exercise some discretion over who it admits into that community. But ask yourself this question: Out of the tens of thousands of administrators, professors, students, and alumni who make up that community, how many have expressed even a shred of sympathy for the millions of Americans who want to preserve the traditional social character of their communities by exercising some discretion over who is admitted?