Cathedral Round-Up: the Harvard Discrimination Lawsuit

It has been an open secret for quite some time (at least since my childhood) that prestigious colleges like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford discriminate against Asian applicants for the simple reason that they “score too high” and “if we took all of the qualified Asian applicants, we wouldn’t have room for other minorities.” (As far as I know, Caltech is the only famous school that does’t discriminate.)

As usual, the Asians just sucked it up and worked harder, but it only seemed like a mater of time before the Tiger Moms decided that “enough is enough”–hence the lawsuit.

Harvard’s official excuse is “Asians are boring,” which is utter bullshit; some of the most interesting people I know are Asian. From the NYT:

Harvard has testified that race, when considered in admissions, can only help, not hurt, a student’s chances of getting in.

But from The Economist:


This graph is a little tricky to understand. It shows the percent of each race’s applicants admitted to Harvard, sorted by academic ranking. So 58% of black applicants with the highest academic ranking–folks with perfect SATs and GPAs–were admitted, while only 12% of Asian applicants with identical SATs and GPAs were admitted. (For some reason, Harvard takes some percentage of students who aren’t really academically stellar, even though it receives plenty of top-tier applications.)

Vox managed to admit how much highly prestigious colleges hate Asians: they get 140 points deducted from their SATs, while Hispanics received a 130 point bonus and blacks a 310 point bonus. (Note, old data but the situation hasn’t changed much.)

From The Guardian: 

Harvard consistently rated Asian-American applicants lower than other races on traits like likability, kindness and “positive personality”.

We need a word for this. I’m calling it “optimist privilege.” It’s time to stop optimists from oppressing the pessimists.

The pessimists are more likely than optimists to be correct, anyway.

Asian-Americans currently comprise 19% of admitted students at Harvard; if evaluated fairly, based on extra-curriculars + academics, they’d be 29%, and if admitted on pure academic merit, they’d be 43%. (Unsurprisingly, this is exactly the percent that Caltech, which does take students on merit, accepts.)

Source: Timofey Pnin

Timofey Pnin on Twitter calculates an even higher Asian acceptance rate if Harvard picked only from its top academic performers–51.7%

Now, many people–such as former defender of liberty, the ACLU–believe that ending Affirmative Action at Harvard would “primarily benefit white students” (the horror! We wouldn’t want to accidentally help white people in the process of being fair to Asians,) but by Timofey Pnin’s data, white admission rates would actually fall by 6%.

Unfortunately for Harvard, ending Affirmative Action would drop their black and Hispanic shares to nearly invisible 0.9% and 2.7%, respectively. Unfortunately, admissions, as currently practiced is a zero-sum game: making room for more Asians means admitting fewer of some other group.

Make no mistake, while the lawsuit is aimed explicitly at Harvard, all of the top schools do it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were community colleges discriminating against Asians.

It’s easy to imagine a scenario where colleges are caught between a ruling that they have to take Asians in proportion to their academic rankings and a ruling that they have to take blacks and Hispanics in proportion to their population demographics.

(Of course, the biggest affirmative action boost is given to legacies , 33.6% of whom Harvard admits, and jocks [86% acceptance rate for “recruited athletes”].)

To those confused about why Harvard would bother taking anyone who isn’t in the top decile of academic performance–their bottom decile students are rather mediocre–the answer is that Harvard goal isn’t to educate the smartest kids in the nation. (That’s Caltech’s goal.) Harvard’s goal is to educate the future leaders of America, and those future leaders aren’t 50% Asian. (Harvard probably likes to flatter itself that it is enhancing those future leaders, but mostly it is attaching its brand name to successful people in order to get free advertising to boost its prestige, rather like companies offering endorsement deals to racecar drivers. It’s not Verizon that made Will Power win the Indianapolis 500, after all–awesome name, btw. Not only does Will have will power, he’s got wheel power. *badum tish*)

source Unsilenced Science

Even if Blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics score abysmally on the SAT and ACT, some of them will go on to be major leaders, movers and shakers. (Though trends for Native Americans and Pacific Islanders are rather worrying.) Asians, meanwhile, continue to blow everyone else out of the water (there may be some merit to the argument that test scores should be adjusted to account for test prep, which Asians invest in heavily.)

I don’t know how the case will turn out. Perhaps the courts will realize the issue with colleges having to take applicants based on actual qualifications–or perhaps they will decide that blatant discrimination by an institution that receives tons of public funding is a violation of the 14th amendment and the Civil Rights Act.

Personally, I don’t care whether Harvard or Yale continues educating the “future leaders of America and the World,” but I do feel loyal to my Asian friends and desire that they be treated fairly and justly. In general, I think college admissions should be based entirely on academic merit, as any other standards simply skew the system toward those most inclined to cheat and game the system–and the system, as it stands, puts horrible and worthless pressure on high-achieving highschool students while delivering them very little in return.