Asian American groups accuse Harvard of racial bias in admissions

A coalition of Asian American groups filed a federal complaint against Harvard University Friday alleging the school engaged in “systemic and continuous discrimination” against Asian Americans during its admissions process.

Robert Iuliano, Harvard University General Counsel, said in a statement that the university uses a “holistic admissions process” that is “fully compliant with federal law” to build a diverse class.

“Neither of us believes that any racial or ethnic group should be subjected to quotas,” commissioners Michael Yaki and Karen Narasaki said. “Nor do we believe that test scores alone entitle anyone to admission at Harvard. Students are more than their test scores and grades.”
(Disclaimer: I only think this applies to Harvard inasmuch as it gets government funds. If it doesn’t get such funds or is willing to forego them, it can apply whatever criteria, however biased, to admissions)

I fully support the plaintiffs in this case. No, “test scores alone” do not entitle anyone to admissions at Harvard. But admissions have to be based on objective and non-racial criteria. Test scores are objective. If you can find other objective criteria, apply them. “Holistic process” and “diversity” are inherently subjective and as such should not be part of the criteria.

The article is rather thin on what evidence the plaintiffs have. In fact, there is no information at all about why they believe they are being discriminated against. Without seeing that evidence, I can’t say one or the other whether they are right or not.

If diversity were not a concern, far fewer young men would be admitted to competitive colleges and universities. Young women outshine young men according to the usual objective criteria.

Affirmative Action for Men

Maybe young men would have to study a bit harder.

This one is making the rounds in academia right now, and it is humorous to me. This is not the first time this been done - there were Asian rights groups arguing for score only admissions back in the 80s as well.

Holistic admissions allows a school to give points for a variety of factors.

GPA is a challenge, as each high school is different.
SAT scores can work to test your ability to excel on a standardized exam.
Writing ability in the submitted essays are tough to evaluate, given the ease of access to editors or outright hiring of someone to write for you.

Then you get to the extra-curricular and activities listings. My son was allowed to list 12 different groups, his associated awards, and his role in each one for admission. This is part of the holistic process as well.

So does this particular Asian American group wants to eliminate “holistic” admissions that take into account more than just board scores and GPA?, or do they want to instead ensure that they are not being artificially limited? Which groups will “lose?”

Non-Hispanic Whites?
African Americans?
Hispanics?
Native Americans?

This will be a fun fight to watch from the sidelines.

After California eliminated affirmative action in public university admissions in the 1990s, everybody won. The number of black and Hispanic students accepted to Berkeley and UCLA went down, but the number graduating stayed the same. In other words, former AA-benefitting students were correctly steered to the university they could handle and emerged with degrees instead of wasted time and debt, and no one of any race who was real material for the top tier was excluded.

The thing about admissions is that universities are not in the business of handing out cookies to people hwo work hard. Universities are in the business of becoming better universities- and that means they want the ability to craft strong classes. And some level of diversity-- not just racial diversity, but diversity in perspective, talents, experiences and approaches-- is fundamental to putting together a strong group of people who can really challenge each other and bring out each other’s talents.

So universities really want to keep their ability to craft their classes, just like hiring managers are always going to want to be able to personally pick their teams rather than just being assigned people who scored highested on a random test. It’s not just about achievement-- it’s about developing a group that can rise toe xcellence together.

A university like Harvard is in an extra bind, because they are not choosing the best from a range of people. They are looking at 50 people with 4.5s, full extracurriculars, and perfect SATs, all looking at one spot. SO Harvard really does look for anything that can take a person beyond “perfect” and in to “interesting.”

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that this problem will never be solved as long as the quality of our K-12 system varies so wildly.

It’s a false dichotomy. Harvard has an “Asian quota” now just like they had a “Jewish quota” in the 30s, and they are awarding and deducting points on an application based on race. There are means to “craft a diverse class” without naked racism.

It is not in a university’s best interest to only accept valedictorians and National Merit scholars. Professors don’t enjoy teaching students who expect to get A+ on every assignment, on every test. Universities don’t want students who will fling themselves out of a six-story window if they fail a pop quiz or get rejected from a competitive internship program. They need students who aren’t so concerned about academics that they never leave the library to venture into the expensive athletic center. Someone’s gotta use the rock climbing wall or go bowling at 2:00 AM. Every leader needs a bunch of people who don’t mind being followers.

That said, racial discrimination doesn’t make me feel good. We can’t sincerely teach kids that working hard K-12 is important, and then turn around and reward the kids who were more skeptical of this advice.

This isn’t the issue with Harvard – everyone they accept is this person, and the methods they use to choose which of them to accept are the problem.

I agree that the current approach to standardized testing and GPAs is flawed, and extracurriculars and leadership are essentially nothing but an additional test/tax on applicants, robotically checking off the list of what “Harvard wants this year.” The answer to the problem isn’t racial quotas, though. How could it be?

They should indeed. The point is, less qualified boys are admitted over more qualified girls, in spite of their not having studied harder. Those who object to “diversity” in college admissions rarely take one of the biggest forms of affirmative action into account. Boys.

Subjectivity is fine. Make it race neutral. This should be easy to do if they wanted to - assign each person a number and obfuscate their name and don’t allow collection of racial or gender data.

I assume they don’t do this because they want to use race and gender as a criteria. I wonder if folks would be so sanguine about this if it were a different minority group being impacted.

I have no problem with eliminating that kind of affirmative action either.

Hey - how about this: you can keep your “holistic process”. But - people judging and deciding which applicants to accept and which to reject do not get to know their name, gender, race or ethnicity. Those are eliminated from the application, all that is stored separately, indexed by the application number. Once the application is accepted, then that is dug out and attached to the application.

The article linked to concerned Kenyon, a liberal arts school.

Is that also true at schools like Harvard with concentrations in STEM fields?

Well it is USA Today, after all. What do you expect?

The evidence that Ivy League schools discriminate against Asian American applicants has been talked about quite a bit by many people for years. Here’s a good summary:

The trouble is that it’s hard to imagine that a university will have a better class with less intelligent students. We should accept what affirmative action is: a lower bar for people based on their skin color that innately causes discrimination on campus as people notice that minorities are lower quality students that white and asian students.

For what it’s worth, the claim that racial discrimination results in ideological diversity is absurdly suspect. It 1) assumes that people think similarly on the basis of skin color, 2) ignores the fact that it is easy to screen for ideological diversity directly without using race, and 3) empirically doesn’t work, since universities are still hotbeds of progressivism.

I mean, liberals are always trying to claim that race is a social construct and isn’t a meaningful concept when discussing group differences in ability. I’m not sure how it can be intellectually consistent to turn around and claim that its a useful criterion for college admissions.

Moreover, racial discrimination presupposes that diversity of thought is beneficial. For undergraduates in some majors who may never do research, the diversity of thought of their fellow students would have essentially no bearing on the quality of education. I challenge anyone who supports AA to show me how a math major benefits from having people of different life perspectives on campus, or else to come up with the list of majors where affirmative action does improve results.

I’m not in favor of race-based acceptance processes, but you misunderstand what it means when we say “race is a social construct”. Social constructs can be very real, and can tell us something about the life experiences of people. As a white person, I am never going to be able to personally experience what it’s like to be a black person in the US. Or an Asian person. Race is not a useful biological concept, but it is a very useful sociological concept, especially in a country like the US with a long history or racial intolerance.

Frankly, I’ve been hearing the “diversity as a positive value” argument for racism in admissions since the original affirmative action referendum in 1996. It’s a nonstarter for any number of reasons, the main ones being that there is no “pragmatic justification” possible for racism, and that any sort of actual diversity of opinions seems frightening to many academic departments these days.

I like this in theory, but I’m not sure how easy it would be in practice to remove all indications and hints of these things from an application. This applicant was an Eagle Scout; this applicant went to high school where the vast majority of the students are Latino; this applicant wrote in his/her application essay about how his/her grandparents came to this country from Korea. (Plus I think what even sven said about “crafting classes” may have some merit.)

That is exactly the problem. And while I don’t think there is a fix, we can do better. States need to distribute funds equitably, and we need to make sure teachers are paid strictly on the basis of merit. Now, distributing funds absolutely equitably is going to drive more of the socially advantaged class to send their kids to private schools, and that is going to offset some of the benefit public schools will get by being funded equally. Still, I don’t think we can justify a situation within a state where some schools get more money just because rich people live in that area.