An organization called Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) sued Harvard in November 2014, alleging that the school’s undergraduate admissions process intentionally discriminates against Asian-Americans by limiting the number of Asian-American students who are admitted, in order to increase admission of less qualified students of other races.
The lawsuit reached a critical milestone last Friday when both sides submitted their findings to a Boston federal court, asking for motions of summary judgment — an immediate ruling in their favor. If the judge denies those requests, a trial is scheduled for October.
The documents and analysis from SFFA were based on data extracted from the records of more than 160,000 applicants who applied for admission over six cycles from 2000 to 2015. For the first time, the general public gets to look under the hood of Harvard’s super secretive “holistic” undergraduate admission process and how it has systematically undermined Asian American students.
How Harvard Discriminates Against Asians
On its website, Harvard argues that, “When evaluating applicants from among the large pool of academically qualified students who seek a place in the freshman class, Harvard — like many of the country’s colleges and universities — considers the whole person, not just an applicant’s grades and test scores.”
According to a New York Times report, in Harvard’s “holistic” admission process, it scores applicants in five categories — “academic,” “extracurricular,” “athletic,” “personal” and “overall.” They are ranked from 1 to 6, with 1 being the best. SFFA analysis shows that while Asian American students scored higher than students of any other racial or ethnic group on academic and extracurricular categories, Harvard admission office always “rated Asian-American applicants lower than others on traits like “positive personality,” likability, courage, kindness and being “widely respected,” and “often without even meeting them (Asian applicants).”
SEFA analysis found these low personal ratings diminished many Asian American applicants’ chances of being admitted. Thus, despite increasing numbers of Asian American applicants over the years, Asian American students admitted as a percentage of Harvard’s freshman class has constantly hovered around 20 percent since 1993, even though the Asian American population has more than doubled since then.
Harvard’s discrimination against Asian Americans today has been compared to its well documented effort to artificially limit the number of Jews being admitted in the 1920s by using so called characteristic traits in addition to test scores and grades.
Harvard, of course, vigorously denies that it ever engaged in any discrimination against Asian Americans. Yet, SFFA found out that “Harvard conducted an internal investigation into its admissions policies in 2013 and found a bias against Asian-American applicants. But Harvard never made the findings public or acted on them.” SFFA added, “University officials did concede that its 2013 internal review found that if Harvard considered only academic achievement, the Asian-American share of the class would rise to 43 percent from the actual 19 percent.”
While the lawsuit targets Harvard, many other Ivy League universities use similar “holistic” approaches (in reality a race-based admission process) to ensure they have a steady racially “balanced” freshmen class, which means some highly qualified Asian students have been denied in order to make room for less qualified students of other races. The New York Times profiled an Asian student, Austin Jia, who had a high GPA, nearly perfect SAT score and activities — debate team, tennis captain and state orchestra, who was rejected by Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. Had Austin had a different skin color, any of these schools would fight to recruit him.
While liberals declare war on education excellence and merit, Asian Americans are fighting back. In addition to the lawsuit against Harvard, SFFA is also suing the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and challenging its racial preference admission policy. But liberals, unsatisfied with their hold on U.S. universities and colleges, took the war against merit to a new high (or more accurately, a new low) by pushing similar race-based admissions to elite high schools.
Admission To Elite High Schools Is The Next Battle Ground
Currently, admission to New York’s eight most selective public high schools is determined by the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). Consequently, Asian American kids make up the majority in these top high schools. They represent 74 percent of the population at Stuyvesant, 66 percent at Bronx Science and 61 percent at Brooklyn Tech.
In an op-ed, New York’s progressive mayor Bill de Blasio stated that he believed these elite high schools have a diversity problem because “The Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t just flawed – it’s a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence.” He said, “If we want this to be the fairest big city in America, we need to scrap the SHSAT and start over.”
What did he propose to do? First, reserve 20 percent of seats at those eight schools for low-income applicants. Someone should have informed him that one in four Asians in New York City lives below the poverty line. About 60 percent of kids at these elite high schools, including many Asians, come from a disadvantaged background and are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch. De Blasio’s belief that Asian kids excel academically because they come from rich families and can easily afford expensive test preparation classes reflects ignorance and racial bias.
Second, de Blasio wants to phase out the SHSAT test. He wants to replace the SHSAT with a new admissions process based on race so that the student bodies of these elite high schools will not dominated by Asians, but will “start looking like New York City. Approximately 45 percent of students would be Latino or black.”
Asian Americans are outraged by de Blasio’s reform plan. Many Asian kids in New York City come from immigrant families with modest means. Excelling academically is the only way for many of them to get out of poverty and achieve their American dreams. They get into elite high schools through sacrifice and hard work, not handouts. SHSAT is the only fair way so far to ensure everyone who enrolled in these high schools are academically prepared.
About 1,000 protesters, mostly Asians, gathered at city hall recently to oppose de Blasio’s effort to scrap the high school entrance exam. Some of the signs said “THE TEST IS NOT THE PROBLEM,” “EXCELLENCE IS COLOR BLIND” and “I HAVE A DREAM TOO.” Even people from other minority communities are offended by the mayor’s proposal because, “To assume African-American and Latino students cannot pass the test is insulting to everyone and educationally unsound.”
“What [de Blasio] and other critics of selective schools are saying is that these low-income black and Latino kids will never measure up, so we must stop trying to measure them,” wrote Jason Riley in The Wall Street Journal. “The mayor and his allies seem to have given up on the very students they claim to be helping.”
If de Blasio truly cares about the K-12 education outcomes for black and Latino children, he would stop his relentless fight against charter schools and start supporting school choice. New York’s famous Success Academy charter schools have scored among the highest performing schools in New York State. The majority of its student body is made up of black and Latino students who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. These students proved that they can excel academically like the Asian students if they are put in an academically demanding environment with competent teachers. But de Blasio is apparently too deep in the Teachers’ Unions pocket to acknowledge the obvious.
Asian Americans have demonstrated that minorities can thrive in a meritocracy society despite political and economic barriers. Yet such success defies the racial grievance industry’s narrative that all minorities are hopeless and powerless victims of the white majority’s oppression. Asian Americans have largely remained quiet as long as the racial grievance industry left them alone. But when liberals like the Harvard admission office and the New York mayor continue their war on education excellence and merit from high schools to colleges, they are shaking the very foundation of Asian Americans’ economic success.
Not surprisingly, the “model minority” are fed up and are fighting back. Many Asian Americans are also reexamining their past steadfast loyalty to liberal causes and the Democrat Party. Given the demographic trend that Asians Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States, liberals may soon regret that they have pushed the model minority away.