Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, introduced a resolution recently condemning as “racist” anyone who calls the Wuhan coronavirus by its correct name, giving special attention to President Donald Trump for this alleged sin.
The three senators are barking up the wrong tree.
Asian Americans face much racism these days, but it comes from elite universities, especially their admissions committees. The problem may extend to our medical schools, where getting admissions wrong hurts us all because it deprives every American community of the best doctors and researchers.
A lawsuit against Harvard College by Students For Fair Admissions showed how Harvard punishes Asian-American applicants. The case revealed that because Asians’ test scores and grades were so high, Harvard held down their admissions by consistently scoring Asians lowest on “personality,” and then using those biased scores to dismiss the applicants.
Duke University professor Peter Arcidiacono summarized:
“Asian-American rejects have academic indices that are higher than African-American admits [emphasis his]. … Almost 93% of Asian-American admits were in the highest academic rating, compared to 88% of whites, 62% of Hispanics, and 58% of African Americans. Asian-American applicants are substantially stronger in other dimensions as well.”
By comparison, public universities in California must abide by the state’s referendum, Proposition 209, banning racial and legacy preferences. After Proposition 209 passed, even Caltech, a private institution, had 43 percent Asian-American undergraduates in 2015.
If you are of a certain age, this may sound familiar. Harvard used the same system in the last century to exclude Jews.
We Need the Best and Brightest in the Medical Field
We’re in the middle of a pandemic, meaning we need the best doctors possible. Do medical school admissions committees also impose race-based penalties and preferences, even at the expense of merit?
Maybe. Last August, the New England Journal of Medicine, a premier academic forum, published “that members of underrepresented minority groups score lower in all [medical school] clerkships and are less likely to be inducted into national [medical] honor societies.”
The author’s conclusion? He made a reckless, nasty accusation that our hard-working, dedicated medical school faculty are racists, overtly or implicitly. “The fear among [medical] students of color is not that our teachers secretly hate us, but rather that we are all so bathed in a culture of racism that we are blind to the biases that lie hidden within us,” the author said. The article asserted, based on no evidence, that an anonymously graded exam on biochemistry or anatomy is “racist” because of who does well and who doesn’t.
Harvard’s data, however, suggest an alternative explanation. The best predictor of how a student will do in a class or on a test is how well he or she did in the last class or test. If Asian-Americans must outperform everyone else to get into medical school, we should expect they will continue to outperform after they arrive. The same is true, overall, for members of any groups — racial, legacy, relatives of large donors — who were admitted despite weaker academic records.
But medical education is making evaluations more opaque, without any evidence it improves patient care. The U.S. Medical Licensing Exam Step 1 just switched to pass-fail, as if grading medical students on standardized medical questions has somehow become evil. Medical schools are also shifting to pass-fail.
Medical honor societies are under pressure to admit students based on racial and other non-academic criteria. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education introduced an ill-defined workforce “diversity” directive, enforced by threats to terminate accreditation. These and other new policies are based largely on the assumption that medical school faculty and evaluation methods, rather than the admissions process, are biased.
Bad Policy Is Punishing Asian Americans
So what happened to African Americans and Hispanics under Proposition 209? According to UCLA law professor Richard Sander, “a 55% increase in four-year graduation rates and a 51% rise in black and Hispanic students who earned degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. The number of blacks and Hispanics graduating with grade-point averages of 3.5 or higher rose by 63%. … More minority students are attending schools where they can handle the work at the pace it’s being taught, and as a result many more of them are graduating.”
How is this bad?
Institutions of higher learning claim to value openness and transparency. The admissions committees of all colleges, medical schools, and law schools should release independently audited data on how well Asian Americans must perform, or outperform, compared with other racial and ethnic groups, to gain admission. It’s the same data Harvard was forced to disgorge under court order, revealing just how crude Harvard’s anti-Asian racism has been.
Without such publicly available data, the children and even grandchildren of today’s Asian Americans will continue to be penalized — and so, perhaps, will everyone who gets medical treatment from people who were picked on the basis of their ancestry instead of their abilities and the content of their character.
Here, perhaps, is the worst part: I wrote a version of this essay with an Asian-American colleague of mine in another city, a physician who does important research at a university medical center. But then that colleague’s supervisors told him he’d be punished if he put his name on this article. Academic authorities would torpedo his ongoing evaluation for promotion; without tenure, he’s vulnerable. They would downgrade his scientific grant proposals based on his opinions and would ruin his scholarly career.
Why? What happened to the academic values of free inquiry and diversity of thought?
The people who run our universities have become intolerant, especially when they are wrong. If you are Asian American and dare to complain in public about systemic anti-Asian bias in academia, the people in charge will destroy you. Sounds like the Chinese Communist Party, but without guns — just money and power over the next generation.
Not much good can come from the Wuhan coronavirus. But perhaps the newly found attention in academia and the mainstream media on bias against Asian-Americans presents an opportunity to refocus on merit and thereby expose, and end, what has been quietly called the “Patel quota” in academic admissions.