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Racial Quotas, Harvard, and the Legacy of Bakke
Have three decades of Supreme Court support for affirmative action been based on fraud?
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Meritocracy For almost 35 years, college-admissions decisions in America have been governed by the continuing legacy of University of California v. Bakke, in which a fragmented U.S. Supreme Court struck down the use of racial quotas but affirmed the legitimacy of considering race as one factor among several. The justices are now revisiting these crucial national issues in the pending Fisher v. University of Texas decision.

According to many observers, a crucial factor in the original 1978 ruling may have been the amicus brief filed by Harvard University. America’s oldest and most prestigious academic institution emphasized that its “holistic” admissions process allowed for the creation of a racially diversified student body while avoiding any “quota system.” In fact, Justice Lewis Powell’s majority opinion cited Harvard’s approach as exemplary, suggesting it demonstrated that well-intentioned and determined university administrators could achieve ethnic diversity without using quotas.

In the decades that followed, Harvard and its Ivy League allies redoubled their public advocacy of racial diversity via holistic admissions. When California’s Proposition 209 propelled the affirmative-action debate back onto the national stage during the 1990s, Derek Bok and William Bowen, former presidents of Harvard and Princeton respectively, published The Shape of the River, a weighty and influential volume that made the case for achieving academic racial diversity using the non-quota Ivy League methods already endorsed by the high court. Over the years, advocacy of “a holistic admissions system” as practiced by Harvard has become a favored mantra among diversity advocates in higher education.

But what if all these claims were simply fraudulent?

I recently published a lengthy article analyzing the admissions policies of America’s Ivy League universities; one of my main points was that these policies coincide with a very suspicious pattern of Asian-American enrollments.

Over the last 20 years, America’s population of college-age Asian-Americans has roughly doubled; but during this same period, the number admitted to Harvard and most other Ivy League schools has held steady or even declined, despite significant improvement in Asian academic performance. Furthermore, the Asian percentages at all Ivy League schools have recently converged to a very narrow range and remained static over time, which seems quite suspicious.

Meanwhile, the Californian Institute of Technology (Caltech) follows a highly selective but strictly race-neutral admissions policy, and its enrollment of Asian Americans has grown almost exactly in line with the growth of the Asian-American population.

The stark difference between these two admissions policies is evident in this graph of comparative enrollment:


Top officials at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton today strenuously deny the existence of Asian-American quotas, but their predecessors had similarly denied the existence of Jewish quotas in the 1920s, now universally acknowledged to have existed. In fact, the large growth in the Asian-American population means that the fraction attending Harvard has fallen by more than 50 percent since the early 1990s, a decline considerably greater than the decline Jews experienced after the implementation of secret quotas in 1925.

Based on these officially reported enrollment statistics, the evidence of Ivy League racial quotas seems overwhelming to many outside observers. The liberal New York Times recently ran a forum on the topic, and a large majority of its commenters were scathing in their criticism of the Harvard public-relations officer who defended his university’s position.


S.B. Woo, founding president of 80-20, a national Asian-American advocacy organization that strongly supported President Obama’s reelection, participated in the New York Times forum, entitling his contribution “Discrimination Is Obvious.” He argued that “the credibility of elite colleges suffers” when they deny the clear evidence that they “set a quota for Asian students,” and he claimed that “America’s core value of equal opportunity is being trampled.” Liberal and left-wing pundits from publications such as The Atlantic and The Washington Monthly have similarly ridiculed Harvard’s blatant dishonesty in the matter.

Suppose we accept the overwhelming statistical evidence that the admissions offices of Harvard and other Ivy League schools have been quietly following an illegal Asian-American quota system for at least the last couple of decades. During this same period, presidents of these institutions have publicly touted their “non-quota” approach to racial admissions problems, while their top lawyers have filed important amicus briefs making similar legal claims, most recently in the 2012 Fisher case. But if none of these individuals ever noticed that illegal quota activity was occurring under their very noses, how can their opinions carry much weight before either the public or the high court?

If the “Harvard Holistic Model” has actually amounted to racial quotas in disguise, then a central pillar of the modern legal foundation of affirmative action in college admissions going back to Bakke may have been based on fraud. Perhaps the justices of the Supreme Court should take these facts into consideration as they formulate their current ruling in the Fisher case.

Ron Unz is publisher of The American Conservative .

(Republished from National Review by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Meritocracy 
The Meritocracy Series
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  1. Token says:

    It is a pity that the article linked (The myth of American meritocracy) is not discussed in full. The article raises other important issues, such as the discrimination of white Christians at the Ivy League, which is, as shown by statistics therein, actually more severe than that of Asians. People in the US would benefit from giving consideration to what happened to the prospect of the middle and working classes in the last few decades, and what role elitist insitutions like the Ivy League played in bringing the current state of affairs about (I actually was at two of those institutions, so none of what was written surprised me in any way).

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  2. It is not relevant that during this time there were Jewish presidents at 6 of the 8 Ivy League schools during the last 15 years? The most wildly disproportionate differences between the general population and the student body and faculty of such institutions must be related to Jewish vs Gentiles. This is where the race issue is most revealing in America, this is where the difference between reality and what is admitted publicly is most extreme. Once one reaches Israel, race is everything, “what was the ethnicity of your mother, was she a Jew?” This everything in Jerusalem, but when Americans are counted at the census, “Jewish” is not a racial category. American Jews stop that category from being treated as a race in America, so it is never counted. Americans would be most curious to see posted how the net worth of Gentiles in American has fared during the past decade compared to h0w the new worth of American Jews has changed, but they will never be allowed to make the comparison.

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  3. David says:

    I would recommend “Diversity” by Peter Wood and “Getting Under the Skin of Diversity” by Larry Purdy for much more detailed critiques of Bakke and The Shape of the River.

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  4. I think the problems caused by the legacy of slavery (and the 100 years thereafter when black people were probably even worse off than when they were slaves), which the USA only began to address about 50 years ago, needs to begin much earlier than university. Attending university, but being unprepared to do so, is only setting people up for failure. The attempt to remedy the clearly unconstitutional treatment of black people in the USA from 1865 until 1965 need to begin early, and continue right through till the end of university. So yes, quotas to get into university were a bad idea. The black students should have been better prepared so that they could earn their way into university, and do well once they are there. But make no mistake, a great injustice was done to them, and until that injustice has been remedied it will be a blot on America’s record.

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  5. National Reveiw would not permit the mention of the massive discrimination of non-jewish whites for obvious reasons.As Mr Unz demonstrated in his earlier work if the distribution of top performing high school seniors on the Nation Merit test is 65-70% non-jewish white,25-30% asain and 6% jewish but the students at the elite ivy schools are 20% non-jewish whites,20% asain and 25% jewish then something is very wrong.As Mr Unz has pointed out in earlier works the leadership that our national elites, over the last few decades, has resulted in the dramatic decline in the economic performance, foreign policy and culture in the United States.Surely this intersection of how we choose our elites and how our country is performing is related.This is where The American Conservative can make a major contribution to the national discussion.

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  6. I originally a legnthy response to your initila post on this matter. I am a lousy writer so I understand why it was never posted, unfortunately, it’s one of those long posts I didn’t copy. But I have followed the articles and the responses and my position is the same now as then and perhaps, more succinct.

    The quota systems designed by universities across the country were in response to AA and their desire to avoid complying with it’s mandate, if they were in fact guilty of discriminatory practices over their historical existence. They were and they are. By avoiding the AA mandate they have insulated themselves from actually addressing the AA policy by and large designed to deal with the history of employment, education, housing practices as to two populations: Native Americans and blacks and women (to a lesser extent) who experienced structural barriers based on benign traits. And an adherence to the imperfect AA policy would have created something quite unique and deeper in impact, than what we have now.

    The women and asian moves were designed to avoid those tough questions of academic practice supported by an institutions regulations and practices against those two populations. Now I don’t want to rehash the matter of first post. And I do find this issue and its progression interesting.

    But the matter remains, in my view, disingenuous amongst the academic community. What seems clear is that AA remains a policy lost in some intellectual limbo of hide and seek, perhaps never to be found.

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  7. Mike says:

    The racism and bigotry you demonstrate in the enrollment practices of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Columbia (etc.) are a national disgrace.

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  8. Brooks says:

    While this does demonstrate a disgraceful and definitely existing tactic, it may well not be as bad as the graph indicates. In particular, this data does not take into account that Asian Americans are very disproportionately located on the west coast of the U.S., and the Ivy League universities are all on the east coast. Most college students tend to stay on the same coast as they grew up on. So, while Ivy League Asian admissions have stagnated, the growth in Ivy League Asian /applications/ is probably not the same as the national Asian population growth.

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  9. Token says:

    Some interesting quotes from the original article:

    “Based on reported statistics, Jews approximately match or even outnumber non-Jewish whites at Harvard and most of the other Ivy League schools, which seems wildly disproportionate. Indeed, the official statistics indicate that non-Jewish whites at Harvard are America’s most under-represented population group, enrolled at a much lower fraction of their national population than blacks or Hispanics, despite having far higher academic test scores.”

    “…if we separate out the Jewish students, their ratio turns out to be 435 percent, while the residual ratio for non-Jewish whites drops to just 28 percent, less than half of even the Asian figure. As a consequence, Asians appear under-represented relative to Jews by a factor of seven, while non-Jewish whites are by far the most under-represented group of all, despite any benefits they might receive from athletic, legacy, or geographical distribution factors. The rest of the Ivy League tends to follow a similar pattern, with the overall Jewish ratio being 381 percent, the Asian figure at 62 percent, and the ratio for non-Jewish whites a low 35 percent, all relative to their number of high-ability college-age students.”

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  10. I will that any of these complaints from Baake forward make no sense.

    In all of the applications, how would it possible to determine that your application was blocked by someone as the result of the quota system. There is absolutely no way to gurantee acceptance even if the standard did not exist.

    How would one know that said quota was the block?
    In addition, reversing the claim kills the contention. Since existence Harvard’s and other universities (nearly across the board) they actively denied access to or simply dismissed an entire segment of the population, in violation of the US Constitutional gurantees. They also sought to maintain said practices denying certain populations. The current measures adopted now are a redress and as such act as payment for a history of destructive practices.

    Though they have strayed far and wide, AA served as form of civil suit against institutions. Knowing that they were in fact, guilty, they sought redress. Such redress is bound withdraw some of what avaikable as priviledge to the populations served. A justified claim, isn’t dismissed because the responsible party’s children will have less in redressing a past due bill. That is just the price. Baake, if suffered ill is not suffered by the recipients of the redress, but by the wrong doing which benefitted him and others like or her previously.

    When I was a kid, if you got caught cutting in line. You may spend the next week, at the end of the line. That’s the price of cheating. The argument Baaake and similar compainants are making is similar to a company having cheated thereby by undercutting, unfairly the opportunity of others. In the redress, that company will lose something. The argument, “That’s it not fair,” isn’t applicable, the redress and the loss is the price of cheating.
    The fault lies not with the claimant, in this case the AA applicants or quota applicants. The fault lies, in The Constitution, regulations, and practices that unfairly benefitted a certain segment while actively cutting out others — Hence the price.

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  11. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Should more Asians have been admitted because of an increase in the Asian proportion of the US population ?
    If the answer is ”yes” then you are suggesting that admissions should be related to the proportion an ethnic group represents in the population. If you accept this principle then you must admit that there is a severe adverse quota on non Jewish whites which is far more significant than any bias against Asians.

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  12. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    It’s readily apparent in our society that it is a-ok to discriminate certain races, religious groups, lifestyles, etc., but an absolute no-no to discriminate others. We are very selective in which races/groups we decided to defend, and which we decided to discriminate against, and minority status is not the determining factor, as much as political influence. There is clearly a double standard, which is very apparent in the college admission quotas that weigh very strongly against Asian-Americans applying to these top-tier universities.

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