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American Pravda: Racial Discrimination at Harvard
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This last week trial began in Boston federal court for the current lawsuit in which a collection of Asian-American organizations are charging Harvard University with racial discrimination in its college admissions policies. The New York Times, our national newspaper of record, has been providing almost daily coverage to developments in the case, with the stories sometimes reaching the front page.

Last Sunday, just before the legal proceedings began, the Times ran a major article explaining the general background of the controversy, and I was very pleased to see that my own past research was cited as an important factor sparking the lawsuit, with the reporter even including a direct link to my 26,000 word 2012 cover-story “The Myth of American Meritocracy,” which had provided strong quantitative evidence of anti-Asian racial quotas. Economic historian Niall Ferguson, long one of Harvard’s most prominent professors but recently decamped to Stanford, similarly noted the role of my research in his column for the London Sunday Times.

Two decades ago, I had published a widely-discussed op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on somewhat similar issues of racial discrimination in elite admissions. But my more recent article was far longer and more comprehensive, and certainly drew more attention than anything else I have ever published, before or after. Soon after it appeared in The American Conservative, its hundreds of thousands of pageviews broke all records for that publication and it attracted considerable notice in the media. Times columnist David Brooks soon ranked it as perhaps the best American magazine article of the year, a verdict seconded by a top editor at The Economist, and the Times itself quickly organized a symposium on the topic of Asian Quotas, in which I eagerly participated. Forbes, The Atlantic, The Washington Monthly, Business Insider, and other publications all discussed my striking results.

Conservative circles took considerable interest, with Charles Murray highlighting my findings, and National Review later publishing an article in which I explained the important implications of my findings for the legal validity of the 1978 Bakke decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

There was also a considerable reaction from the academic community itself. I quickly received speaking invitations from the Yale Political Union, Yale Law, and the University of Chicago Law School, while Prof. Ferguson discussed my distressing analysis in a lengthy Newsweek/Daily Beast entitled “The End of the American Dream.”

Moreover, I had also published an associated critique suggesting that over the years my beloved Harvard alma mater had transformed itself into one of the world’s largest hedge-funds with a vestigial school attached for tax-exempt purposes. This also generated enormous discussion in media circles, with liberal journalist Chris Hayes Tweeting it out and generously saying he was “very jealous” he hadn’t written the piece himself, while many of his colleagues promoted the piece with similarly favorable remarks, while the university quickly provided a weak public response to these serious financial charges.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to myself or other outside observers, Harvard itself launched an internal investigation of the anti-Asian bias that I had alleged. Apparently, the university’s own initial results generally confirmed my accusations, indicating that if students were admitted solely based upon objective academic merit, far more Asians would receive thick envelopes. But Harvard’s top administrators buried the study and did nothing, with these important facts only coming out years later during the discovery process of the current Asian Quotas lawsuit.

 

Only the first part of my very long article dealt with the question of anti-Asian racial discrimination in elite college admissions, but it attracted vastly more attention than any other element.

For many years, there had been a widespread belief within the Asian-American community that such discriminatory practices existed, a sentiment backed by considerable anecdotal evidence. But the university administrations had always flatly denied those claims, and the media had shown little interest in investigating them. However, my powerful new quantitative evidence was very difficult to ignore.

Among other things, I focused upon the publicly available statewide lists of National Merit Semifinalists (NMS), a group that constituted the highest-performing one-half percent of American high school seniors. By a fortunate coincidence, this fraction of the American student body was reasonably close in size to the total enrollment of students at the Ivy League schools together with similarly elite schools such as Stanford, Caltech, and MIT. The NMS dataset had previously been almost entirely ignored by researchers, but I found it a treasure-trove of useful empirical information.

Since Asian last names are extremely distinctive, I was able to estimate that Asians nationally constituted roughly 25-30% of this top academic group, a figure considerably larger than their enrollment at Harvard and other elite schools. This conclusion was supported by the even greater Asian dominance in more highly selective academic competitions such as the Math Olympiad and the Intel Science Talent Search, though the far smaller numbers involved reduced the statistical validity of that analysis.

But my most dramatic finding relied upon an even simpler analysis of public data, which had previously remained unnoticed. As I wrote in my New York Times column:

Just as their predecessors of the 1920s always denied the existence of “Jewish quotas,” top officials at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the other Ivy League schools today strongly deny the existence of “Asian quotas.” But there exists powerful statistical evidence to the contrary.

Each year, American universities provide their racial enrollment data to the National Center for Education Statistics, which makes this information available online. After the Justice Department closed an investigation in the early 1990s into charges that Harvard University discriminated against Asian-American applicants, Harvard’s reported enrollment of Asian-Americans began gradually declining, falling from 20.6 percent in 1993 to about 16.5 percent over most of the last decade.

This decline might seem small. But these same years brought a huge increase in America’s college-age Asian population, which roughly doubled between 1992 and 2011, while non-Hispanic white numbers remained almost unchanged. Thus, according to official statistics, the percentage of Asian-Americans enrolled at Harvard fell by more than 50 percent over the last two decades, while the percentage of whites changed little. This decline in relative Asian-American enrollment was actually larger than the impact of Harvard’s 1925 Jewish quota, which reduced Jewish freshmen from 27.6 percent to 15 percent.

The percentages of college-age Asian-Americans enrolled at most of the other Ivy League schools also fell during this same period, and over the last few years Asian enrollments across these different universities have converged to a very similar level and remained static over time. This raises suspicions of a joint Ivy League policy to restrict Asian-American numbers to a particular percentage.

This statistical finding was illustrated in a simple graph, demonstrating that over the last two decades enrollment of Asian-Americans had gradually converged across the entire Ivy League, while sharply diverging from the rapidly increasing Asian-American population, with only strictly meritocratic Caltech continuing to track the latter.

It would be difficult to imagine more obvious visual evidence of an Asian Quota implemented across the Ivy League, and this chart was very widely circulated among Asian-American organizations and activists, who launched their lawsuit the following year. If they do succeed in winning their current case in federal court, the history books may eventually record that the wealthiest and most powerful university in the world was brought low by a single striking graph.

 

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For decades Affirmative Action based upon race has been an extremely contentious topic in American politics, sharply dividing across ideological lines, and it was hardly surprising that my new analysis of that issue produced a wave of coverage. But buried deeper within that same article were even more explosive findings, apparently far too sensitive to even become a subject of significant media scrutiny.

Not without reason, most journalists regard matters touching upon Jewish sensitivities as the lethal “third rail” of their profession, and the bulk of my piece had presented some unexpected new insights in this area. These attracted the widespread private fascination of numerous prominent scholars and members of the media, but almost none of these individuals was willing to publicly disclose the results that had drawn their rapt attention.

As a consequence, these findings have remained largely unnoticed except among those who have actually taken the time to read far into my extremely long piece, while never penetrating into the awareness of the broader public. For example, Prof. Jordan Peterson, a leading celebrity-intellectual with a large YouTube following, recently demonstrated that he was totally ignorant of these important facts. Therefore, I am now taking this opportunity to summarize and excerpt those elements of my Meritocracy analysis that attracted the greatest private interest but received the least public attention.

A few years earlier, Jerome Karabel, an eminent Berkeley sociologist, had published The Chosen, his magisterial history of Jewish enrollment in the Ivy League, which won numerous scholarly accolades. His research conclusively demonstrated the existence of the once-denied Jewish Quotas of the past, employed by the reigning WASP elites to maintain control of those institutions against their upstart ethnic competitors. As I wrote:

Karabel’s massive documentation—over 700 pages and 3000 endnotes—establishes the remarkable fact that America’s uniquely complex and subjective system of academic admissions actually arose as a means of covert ethnic tribal warfare…

As Karabel repeatedly demonstrates, the major changes in admissions policy which later followed were usually determined by factors of raw political power and the balance of contending forces rather than any idealistic considerations. For example, in the aftermath of World War II, Jewish organizations and their allies mobilized their political and media resources to pressure the universities into increasing their ethnic enrollment by modifying the weight assigned to various academic and non-academic factors, raising the importance of the former over the latter. Then a decade or two later, this exact process was repeated in the opposite direction, as the early 1960s saw black activists and their liberal political allies pressure universities to bring their racial minority enrollments into closer alignment with America’s national population by partially shifting away from their recently enshrined focus on purely academic considerations. Indeed, Karabel notes that the most sudden and extreme increase in minority enrollment took place at Yale in the years 1968–69, and was largely due to fears of race riots in heavily black New Haven, which surrounded the campus.

Philosophical consistency appears notably absent in many of the prominent figures involved in these admissions battles, with both liberals and conservatives sometimes favoring academic merit and sometimes non-academic factors, whichever would produce the particular ethnic student mix they desired for personal or ideological reasons. Different political blocs waged long battles for control of particular universities, and sudden large shifts in admissions rates occurred as these groups gained or lost influence within the university apparatus: Yale replaced its admissions staff in 1965 and the following year Jewish numbers nearly doubled.

Branches of Hillel, the Jewish student organization, exist across most college campuses, and for decades they have provided estimates of the percentages of the local Jewish enrollment, with Karabel and other scholars relying upon these to chart the ebbs and flows of Jewish numbers. I discussed how Karabel used this data to celebrate the final meritocratic victory of Jewish college applicants over their former WASP oppressors.

Indeed, Karabel opens the final chapter of his book by…noting the extreme irony that the WASP demographic group which had once so completely dominated America’s elite universities and “virtually all the major institutions of American life” had by 2000 become “a small and beleaguered minority at Harvard,” being actually fewer in number than the Jews whose presence they had once sought to restrict. Very similar results seem to apply all across the Ivy League, with the disproportion often being even greater than the particular example emphasized by Karabel.

 

Karabel showed that the collapse of WASP resistance to the admission of high-performing Jewish students soon drastically reshaped the ethnic composition of these institutions, with his triumphalist narrative suggesting that this transformation raised academic standards and lifted the quality of the student body to new heights. And for decades, I had entirely accepted this simple morality tale, which was implicitly or explicitly presented in nearly all the accounts, liberal and conservative alike, that I had read regarding the history of our leading East Coast universities.

But as I began to quantitatively explore this issue, utilizing the same techniques and data sets I had applied to determining the existence of severe discrimination against Asian applicants, I uncovered evidence of an entirely contrary nature. I soon came to realize that many of my beliefs were merely ideological fairy tales, sometimes little more accurate than the Soviet claims of Russian peasants eagerly joining their collective farms.

Although Jewish names are not nearly as distinctive as Asian ones, they may usually be determined with reasonable accuracy, and applying Weyl analysis to a subset of the most absolutely characteristic ones—such as Goldstein, Silverberg, Cohen, and Kaplan—allows us to statistically validate the results so obtained.

As I thus analyzed the many dozens of statewide NMS lists, I soon discovered that Jews were far less heavily represented among America’s highest-performing students than I had expected, probably constituting no more than 6% of the national NMS total. The lists of the winners of the top scholastic competitions I had previously examined for Asians produced reasonably similar results.

Hispanic names are quite distinct and blacks are fewer in number and somewhat less successful academically, so the NMS totals for those two groups are also not difficult to determine. Once we subtract the totals of Asians, Jews, Hispanics, and blacks, what remains is the NMS total of non-Hispanic white Gentiles. And the results were extremely eye-opening:

The evidence of the recent NMS semifinalist lists seems the most conclusive of all, given the huge statistical sample sizes involved. As discussed earlier, these students constitute roughly the highest 0.5 percent in academic ability, the top 16,000 high school seniors who should be enrolling at the Ivy League and America’s other most elite academic universities. In California, white Gentile names outnumber Jewish ones by over 8-to-1; in Texas, over 20-to-1; in Florida and Illinois, around 9-to-1. Even in New York, America’s most heavily Jewish state, there are more than two high-ability white Gentile students for every Jewish one. Based on the overall distribution of America’s population, it appears that approximately 65–70 percent of America’s highest ability students are non-Jewish whites, well over ten times the Jewish total of under 6 percent.

Needless to say, these proportions are considerably different from what we actually find among the admitted students at Harvard and its elite peers, which today serve as a direct funnel to the commanding heights of American academics, law, business, and finance. 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.

When examining statistical evidence, the proper aggregation of data is critical. Consider the ratio of the recent 2007–2011 enrollment of Asian students at Harvard relative to their estimated share of America’s recent NMS semifinalists, a reasonable proxy for the high-ability college-age population, and compare this result to the corresponding figure for whites. The Asian ratio is 63 percent, slightly above the white ratio of 61 percent, with both these figures being considerably below parity due to the substantial presence of under-represented racial minorities such as blacks and Hispanics, foreign students, and students of unreported race. Thus, there appears to be no evidence for racial bias against Asians, even excluding the race-neutral impact of athletic recruitment, legacy admissions, and geographical diversity.

However, 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.

Just as striking as these wildly disproportionate current numbers have been the longer enrollment trends. In the three decades since I graduated Harvard, the presence of white Gentiles has dropped by as much as 70 percent, despite no remotely comparable decline in the relative size or academic performance of that population; meanwhile, the percentage of Jewish students has actually increased. This period certainly saw a very rapid rise in the number of Asian, Hispanic, and foreign students, as well as some increase in blacks. But it seems rather odd that all of these other gains would have come at the expense of whites of Christian background, and none at the expense of Jews.

Several graphs from my article effectively illustrated these remarkable findings.

Based on these figures, Jewish students were roughly 1,000% more likely to be enrolled at Harvard and the rest of the Ivy League than white Gentiles of similar ability. This was an absolutely astonishing result given that under-representation in the range of 20% or 30% is often treated by courts as powerful prima facie evidence of racial discrimination.

Furthermore, I noted the possibility that this discrepancy might be related to the overwhelming Jewish dominance of the top administration of those institutions:

It would be unreasonable to ignore the salient fact that this massive apparent bias in favor of far less-qualified Jewish applicants coincides with an equally massive ethnic skew at the topmost administrative ranks of the universities in question, a situation which once again exactly parallels Karabel’s account from the 1920s. Indeed, Karabel points out that by 1993 Harvard, Yale, and Princeton all had presidents of Jewish ancestry, and the same is true for the current presidents of Yale, Penn, Cornell, and possibly Columbia, as well as Princeton’s president throughout during the 1990s and Yale’s new incoming president, while all three of Harvard’s most recent presidents have either had Jewish origins or a Jewish spouse.

At most universities, a provost is the second-ranking official, being responsible for day-to-day academic operations. Although Princeton’s current president is not Jewish, all seven of the most recent Princeton provosts stretching back to 1977 have had such ancestry, with several of the other Ivies not being far behind. A similar degree of massive overrepresentation is found throughout the other top administrative ranks of the rest of the Ivy League, and across American leading educational institutions in general, and these are the institutions which select our future national elites.

Since the publication of my 2012 article, Harvard and Princeton have both selected new presidents, each of them Jewish, while Yale’s Jewish president has remained in office.

 

The exact mechanism by which this seemingly enormous bias in favor of Jewish applicants to our most elite colleges manifests itself is not entirely clear, and I very doubt that it takes the crude form of top administrators directing admissions officers to enroll under-qualified Jewish applicants. Instead, I strongly suggested that a leading factor was the “negative pressure” of America’s overwhelmingly Jewish media and Jewish activist groups, which might respond harshly to any significant decline in Jewish numbers:

Meanwhile, any hint of “anti-Semitism” in admissions is regarded as an absolutely mortal sin, and any significant reduction in Jewish enrollment may often be denounced as such by the hair-trigger media. For example, in 1999 Princeton discovered that its Jewish enrollment had declined to just 500 percent of parity, down from more than 700 percent in the mid-1980s, and far below the comparable figures for Harvard or Yale. This quickly resulted in four front-page stories in the Daily Princetonian, a major article in the New York Observer, and extensive national coverage in both the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education. These articles included denunciations of Princeton’s long historical legacy of anti-Semitism and quickly led to official apologies, followed by an immediate 30 percent rebound in Jewish numbers. During these same years, non-Jewish white enrollment across the entire Ivy League had dropped by roughly 50 percent, reducing those numbers to far below parity, but this was met with media silence or even occasional congratulations on the further “multicultural” progress of America’s elite education system.

I suspect that the combined effect of these separate pressures, rather than any planned or intentional bias, is the primary cause of the striking enrollment statistics that we have examined above. In effect, somewhat dim and over-worked admissions officers, generally possessing weak quantitative skills, have been tasked by their academic superiors and media monitors with the twin ideological goals of enrolling Jews and enrolling non-whites, with any major failures risking harsh charges of either “anti-Semitism” or “racism.” But by inescapable logic maximizing the number of Jews and non-whites implies minimizing the number of non-Jewish whites.

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I further noted that this 1999 firestorm of media controversy attacking Princeton for its alleged “anti-Semitism” took place at a time when university’s president and provost were both Jewish, and the campus had recently opened a $4.5 million Center for Jewish Life.

In 2002, Jacques Steinberg, a longtime National Educational Correspondent for the New York Times, published The Gatekeepers, a widely praised best-seller that provided an “inside look” at the college admissions process based on the year he had spent embedded with those officials at Wesleyan, and the 2012 edition of his book stated that few aspects of the process had changed during the previous decade. I was deeply distressed by his description of the background of the admissions officers:

In fact, it seems likely that some of these obvious admissions biases we have noticed may be related to the poor human quality and weak academic credentials of many of the university employees making these momentous decisions. As mentioned above, the job of admissions officer is poorly paid, requires no professional training, and offers few opportunities for career advancement; thus, it is often filled by individuals with haphazard employment records. As one of the “Little Ivies,” Wesleyan is among America’s most prestigious liberal arts colleges, and Steinberg’s description of the career paths of its handful of admissions officers is eye-opening: the interim Director of Admissions had most recently screened food-stamp recipients and run a psychiatric half-way house; another had worked as an animal control officer and managed a camera store; a third unsuccessfully sought a job as a United Airlines flight attendant; others were recent college graduates, whose main college interests had been sports or ethnic studies. The vast majority seem to possess minimal academic expertise and few intellectual interests, raising serious questions about their ability to reasonably evaluate their higher-quality applicants.

Books by former members of the Harvard and Dartmouth admissions strongly supported the same conclusions.

As additional evidence, we can consider What It Really Takes to Get into the Ivy League, a 2003 advice book written by Chuck Hughes, who spent five years as a Senior Admissions Officer at Harvard, after having himself graduated from that university. Although he strongly emphasizes his own college participation in varsity sports, he never says a word about any personal academic interests, and near the end of his book on elite college admissions, he appears to describe Duke, Northwestern, and Rice as being members of the Ivy League.

A more explicit statement of this exact problem is found in A for Admission, a very candid 1997 description of the admissions process at elite private universities written by Michele A. Hernandez, who had spent four years as Dartmouth’s Assistant Director of Admissions. Near the beginning of her book, Hernandez explains that over half of Ivy League admissions officers are individuals who had not attended such academically challenging universities, nor probably had the intellectual capability to do so, and were sometimes confused about the relative ranking of SAT scores and other basic academic credentials. She also cautions students to avoid any subtlety in their essays, lest their words be misunderstood by their readers in the admissions office, whose degrees are more likely to have been in education than in any serious academic discipline.

Given this unfortunate situation, we should not be overly surprised by the egregious aspects of the particular admissions stories that Steinberg recounts.

Consider the case of Tiffany Wang, a Chinese immigrant student raised in the Silicon Valley area, where her father worked as an engineer. Although English was not her first language, her SAT scores were over 100 points above the Wesleyan average, and she ranked as a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist, putting her in the top 0.5 percent of high school students (not the top 2 percent as Steinberg mistakenly claims). Nevertheless, the admissions officer rated her just so-so in academics, and seemed far more positively impressed by her ethnic activism in the local school’s Asian-American club. Ultimately, he stamped her with a “Reject,” but later admitted to Steinberg that she might have been admitted if he had been aware of the enormous time and effort she had spent campaigning against the death penalty, a political cause near and dear to his own heart. Somehow I suspect that a student who boasted of leadership in pro-death penalty activism among his extracurriculars might have fared rather worse in this process. And presumably for similar reasons, Tiffany was also rejected by all her other prestigious college choices, including Yale, Penn, Duke, and Wellesley, an outcome which greatly surprised and disappointed her immigrant father.

There was also the case of half-Brazilian Julianna Bentes, with slight black ancestry, who came from a middle-class family and attended on a partial scholarship one of America’s most elite prep schools, whose annual tuition now tops $30,000; her SAT scores were somewhat higher than Tiffany’s, and she was an excellent dancer. The combination of her academic ability, dancing talent, and “multiracial” background ranked her as one of America’s top college recruitment prospects, gaining her admission and generous financial packages from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and every other elite university to which she applied, including the University of Chicago’s most prestigious academic scholarship award and a personal opportunity to meet Chelsea Clinton while visiting Stanford, which she did, before ultimately selecting Yale.

Finally, there was the case of Becca Jannol, a girl from a very affluent Jewish family near Beverly Hills, who attended the same elite prep school as Julianna, but with her parents paying the full annual tuition. Despite her every possible advantage, including test-prep courses and retaking the exam, her SAT scores were some 240 points lower on the 1600 point scale, placing her toward the bottom of the Wesleyan range, while her application essay focused on the philosophical challenges she encountered when she was suspended for illegal drug use. But she was a great favorite of her prep school counselor, who was an old college friend of the Wesleyan admissions officer, and using his discretion, he stamped her “Admit.” Her dismal academic record then caused this initial decision to be overturned by a unanimous vote of the other members of the full admissions committee, but he refused to give up, and moved heaven and earth to gain her a spot, even offering to rescind the admissions of one or more already selected applicants to create a place for her. Eventually he got her shifted from the Reject category to wait-list status, after which he secretly moved her folder to the very top of the large waiting list pile.

In the end “connections” triumphed, and she received admission to Wesleyan, although she turned it down in favor of an offer from more prestigious Cornell, which she had obtained through similar means. But at Cornell, she found herself “miserable,” hating the classes and saying she “didn’t see the usefulness of [her] being there.” However, her poor academic ability proved no hindrance, since the same administrator who had arranged her admission also wrangled her a quick entrance into a special “honors program” he personally ran, containing just 40 of the 3500 students in her year. This exempted her from all academic graduation requirements, apparently including classes or tests, thereby allowing her to spend her four college years mostly traveling around the world while working on a so-called “special project.” After graduation, she eventually took a job at her father’s successful law firm, thereby realizing her obvious potential as a member of America’s ruling Ivy League elite, or in her own words, as being one of “the best of the best.”

Jannol’s account also contains a particularly intriguing element. Personal essays have become a crucial component of application packages to elite colleges, and these are considered especially effective if they provide strong evidence of hardships and victimhood. Given her extremely wealthy and privileged background, Jannol had originally considered focusing on her status as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, but ultimately decided against it because so many of her peers would be following exactly that same stratagem, explaining to Steinberg that “Everyone’s going to write about their Holocaust grandma.”

Over the last few decades, our news and entertainment industries have elevated Jewish suffering during World War II into the most horrific and monumental tragedy of the modern era, and it not impossible that a substantial fraction of the unfair Jewish advantage in elite admissions may derive from something as simple as the ability of the children of elite Jewish families to wrap themselves in the ultimate victimhood of Holocaust survivor status.

 

I had been stunned by my evidence of the unreasonable over-representation of Jewish students at our most elite academic institutions, and most of the prominent scholars and journalists who read my analysis seemed to have a similar reaction. Further analysis suggested some of the crucial reasons for this widespread myopia, which I explicated in a section entitled “The Strange Collapse of Jewish Academic Achievement.”

From my own perspective, I found these statistical results surprising, even shocking.

I had always been well aware of the very heavy Jewish presence at elite academic institutions. But the underwhelming percentage of Jewish students who today achieve high scores on academic aptitude tests was totally unexpected, and very different from the impressions I had formed during my own high school and college years a generation or so ago. An examination of other available statistics seems to support my recollections and provides evidence for a dramatic recent decline in the academic performance of American Jews

The U.S. Math Olympiad began in 1974, and all the names of the top scoring students are easily available on the Internet. During the 1970s, well over 40 percent of the total were Jewish, and during the 1980s and 1990s, the fraction averaged about one-third. However, during the thirteen years since 2000, just two names out of 78 or 2.5 percent appear to be Jewish. The Putnam Exam is the most difficult and prestigious mathematics competition for American college students, with five or six Putnam winners having been selected each year since 1938. Over 40 percent of the Putnam winners prior to 1950 were Jewish, and during every decade from the 1950s through the 1990s, between 22 percent and 31 percent of the winners seem to have come from that same ethnic background. But since 2000, the percentage has dropped to under 10 percent, without a single likely Jewish name in the last seven years.

This consistent picture of stark ethnic decline recurs when we examine the statistics for the Science Talent Search, which has been selecting 40 students as national finalists for America’s most prestigious high school science award since 1942, thus providing a huge statistical dataset of over 2800 top science students. During every decade from the 1950s through the 1980s, Jewish students were consistently 22–23 percent of the recipients, with the percentage then declining to 17 percent in the 1990s, 15 percent in the 2000s, and just 7 percent since 2010. Indeed, of the thirty top ranked students over the last three years, only a single one seems likely to have been Jewish. Similarly, Jews were over one-quarter of the top students in the Physics Olympiad from 1986 to 1997, but have fallen to just 5 percent over the last decade, a result which must surely send Richard Feynman spinning in his grave.

* * *

Taken in combination, these trends all provide powerful evidence that over the last decade or more there has been a dramatic collapse in Jewish academic achievement, at least at the high end.

Several possible explanations for this empirical result seem reasonably plausible. Although the innate potential of a group is unlikely to drop so suddenly, achievement is a function of both ability and effort, and today’s overwhelmingly affluent Jewish students may be far less diligent in their work habits or driven in their studies than were their parents or grandparents, who lived much closer to the bracing challenges of the immigrant experience. In support of this hypothesis, roughly half of the Jewish Math Olympiad winners from the last two decades have had the sort of highly distinctive names which would tend to mark them as recent immigrants from the Soviet Union or elsewhere, and such names were also very common among the top Jewish science students of the same period, even though this group represents only about 10 percent of current American Jews. Indeed, it seems quite possible that this large sudden influx of very high performing immigrant Jews from the late 1980s onward served to partially mask the rapid concurrent decline of high academic achievement among native American Jews, which otherwise would have become much more clearly evident a decade or so earlier.

This pattern of third or fourth generation American students lacking the academic drive or intensity of their forefathers is hardly surprising, nor unique to Jews. Consider the case of Japanese-Americans, who mostly arrived in America during roughly the same era. America’s Japanese have always been a high-performing group, with a strong academic tradition, and Japan’s international PISA academic scores are today among the highest in the world. But when we examine the list of California’s NMS semifinalists, less than 1 percent of the names are Japanese, roughly in line with their share of the California population. Meanwhile, Chinese, Koreans, and South Asians are 6 percent of California but contribute 50 percent of the top scoring students, an eight-fold better result, with a major likely difference being that they are overwhelmingly of recent immigrant origin. In fact, although ongoing Japanese immigration has been trivial in size, a significant fraction of the top Japanese students have the unassimilated Japanese first names that would tend to indicate they are probably drawn from that tiny group.

In his 1966 book The Creative Elite in America, Weyl used last name analysis to document a similarly remarkable collapse in achievement among America’s Puritan-descended population, which had once provided a hugely disproportionate fraction of our intellectual leadership, but for various reasons went into rapid decline from about 1900 onward. He also mentions the disappearance of the remarkable Scottish intellectual contribution to British life after about 1800. Although the evidence for both these historical parallels seems very strong, the causal factors are not entirely clear, though Weyl does provide some possible explanations.

In some respects, perhaps it was the enormously outsize Jewish academic performance of the past which was highly anomalous, and the more recent partial convergence toward white European norms which is somewhat less surprising. Over the years, claims have been widely circulated that the mean Jewish IQ is a full standard deviation—15 points—above the white average of 100, but this seems to have little basis in reality. Richard Lynn, one of the world’s foremost IQ experts, has performed an exhaustive literature review and located some 32 IQ samples of American Jews, taken from 1920 to 2008. For the first 14 studies conducted during the years 1920–1937, the Jewish IQ came out very close to the white American mean, and it was only in later decades that the average figure rose to the approximate range of 107–111.

In a previous article “Race, IQ & Wealth,” I had suggested that the IQs of ethnic groups appear to be far more malleable than many people would acknowledge, and may be particularly influenced by factors of urbanization, education, and affluence. Given that Jews have always been America’s most heavily urbanized population and became the most affluent during the decades in question, these factors may account for a substantial portion of their huge IQ rise during most of the twentieth century. But with modern electronic technology recently narrowing the gaps in social environment and educational opportunities between America’s rural and urban worlds, we might expect a portion of this difference to gradually dissipate. American Jews are certainly a high-ability population, but the innate advantage they have over other high-ability white populations is probably far smaller than is widely believed.

This conclusion is supported by the General Social Survey (GSS), an online dataset of tens of thousands of American survey responses from the last forty years which includes the Wordsum vocabulary test, a very useful IQ proxy correlating at 0.71. Converted into the corresponding IQ scores, the Wordsum-IQ of Jews is indeed quite high at 109. But Americans of English, Welsh, Scottish, Swedish, and Catholic Irish ancestry also have fairly high mean IQs of 104 or above, and their combined populations outnumber Jews by almost 15-to-1, implying that they would totally dominate the upper reaches of the white American ability distribution, even if we excluded the remaining two-thirds of all American whites, many of whose IQs are also fairly high. Furthermore, all these groups are far less highly urbanized or affluent than Jews, probably indicating that their scores are still artificially depressed to some extent. We should also remember that Jewish intellectual performance tends to be quite skewed, being exceptionally strong in the verbal subcomponent, much lower in math, and completely mediocre in visuospatial ability; thus, a completely verbal-oriented test such as Wordsum would actually tend to exaggerate Jewish IQ.

Stratifying the white American population along religious lines produces similar conclusions. An analysis of the data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth found that Americans raised in the Episcopal Church actually exceeded Jews in mean IQ, while several other religious categories came quite close, leading to the result that the overwhelming majority of America’s high-ability white population had a non-Jewish background.

Finally, in the case of Jews, these assimilation- or environment-related declines in relative academic performance may have been reinforced by powerful demographic trends. For the last generation or two, typical Jewish women from successful or even ordinary families have married very late and averaged little more than a single child, while the small fraction of Jewish women who are ultra-Orthodox often marry in their teens and then produce seven or eight children. As a consequence, this extremely religious subpopulation has been doubling in size every twenty years, and now easily exceeds 10 percent of the total, including a far higher percentage of younger Jews. But ultra-Orthodox Jews have generally been academically mediocre, often with enormously high rates of poverty and government dependency. Therefore, the combination of these two radically different trends of Jewish reproduction has acted to stabilize the total number of Jewish youngsters, while probably producing a sharp drop in their average academic achievement.

 

Although the relative importance of these individual factors behind Jewish academic decline is unclear, the decline itself seems an unmistakable empirical fact, and the widespread unawareness of this fact has had important social consequences.

My casual mental image of today’s top American students is based upon my memories of a generation or so ago, when Jewish students, sometimes including myself, regularly took home a quarter or more of the highest national honors on standardized tests or in prestigious academic competitions; thus, it seemed perfectly reasonable that Harvard and most of the other Ivy League schools might be 25 percent Jewish, based on meritocracy. But the objective evidence indicates that in present day America, only about 6 percent of our top students are Jewish, which now renders such very high Jewish enrollments at elite universities totally absurd and ridiculous. I strongly suspect that a similar time lag effect is responsible for the apparent confusion in many others who have considered the topic.

For example, throughout his very detailed book, Karabel always seems to automatically identify increasing Jewish enrollments with academic meritocracy, and Jewish declines with bias or discrimination, retaining this assumption even when his discussion moves into the 1990s and 2000s. He was born in 1950, graduated Harvard in 1972, and returned there to earn his Ph.D. in 1977, so this may indeed have been the reality during his formative years. But he seems strikingly unaware that the world has changed since then, and that over the last decade or two, meritocracy and Jewish numbers have become opposing forces: the stricter the meritocratic standard, the fewer the Jews admitted.

Evidence of the remarkable collapse of Jewish academic achievement is easily seen in a series of charts:

 

Important results with major policy implications will only have significant impact if they are widely distributed, and in this regard I faced formidable obstacles.

My article was running in The American Conservative, a small circulation political opinion magazine of which I was the publisher, and so my findings needed to break through into far larger and more mainstream outlets in order to reach a sizable audience. But in the past TAC had often been fiercely denounced by Jewish activists and organizations, mostly on foreign policy issues, and elements of my piece were far more inflammatory than had been any of that other material. While harsh attacks might help promote my information within particular ideological circles, they would surely dissuade mainstream publications from taking notice, and would also sufficiently stigmatize my research that no respectable individual would be willing to cite it in the future.

My first decision was to place my Asian Quota section near the front of my very long text. Aside from the intrinsic importance, this would also provide interested readers with a relatively safe “hook” that they could use to describe and promote my analysis, while allowing them to safely avoid mention of the “third rail” material that constituted the bulk of my text; and this was exactly what eventually occurred. But such a strategy would obviously fail unless I could also somehow induce hair-trigger activist groups to maintain silence about my article rather than crudely demonizing it. Therefore, I decided to launch what I considered a decapitating first strike against those central organs of Jewish activism but to do so in a rather oblique manner.

Jerome Karabel certainly ranked as the world’s foremost authority on Jewish admissions to the Ivy League, and his celebrated opus had been the central text I had used, although my ultimate conclusions were radically different than his own. It seemed likely to me that once Jewish organizations became aware of the controversial elements of my article, he would be among the first individuals they contacted, both to seek his assessment of my analysis and perhaps also receive suggestions for an effective rebuttal.

Therefore, I obtained Karabel’s contact information and sent him an advance copy of my completed article weeks before it was generally released, explaining that I thought he would find it rather interesting although some of my conclusions were quite different than his own. My expectation was that once he carefully read my detailed analysis, he would conclude that the case I made was far too strong to be effectively refuted, and he would pass along that verdict to the activist organizations when they eventually contacted him, thus leading them adopt a response of “strategic silence” in order to avoid drawing attention to my claims. For whatever reason, that was exactly how they reacted, and no prominent Jewish activist or group ever issued a public response to my extremely controversial findings despite the considerable attention these ultimately attracted.

Not only did this complete absence of organized attacks provide a green light for the very favorable mainstream coverage I soon began receiving, but it even opened the door to quite friendly treatment from numerous members of the organized Jewish community itself, as they discovered and read my article without any prior negative preconceptions. Most of these discussions focused directly upon the evidence of the sharp recent decline in Jewish academic ability and the resulting Jewish over-representation at elite universities, with a professor of Talmud Studies at Yeshiva University publishing a thousand-word column entitled “Endangered Jewish Genius” and NYU’s Berman Jewish Policy Center featuring my article on its website. Even the Israeli press took notice, with a columnist for Israel Hayom, Sheldon Adelson’s top-circulation newpaper, devoting a 1500 word column to my analysis, focusing especially upon my claims of Jewish over-representation.

But although prominent Jewish activists maintained their strict blockade against any discussion of my findings, the Jewish community has never lacked for extreme zealots, and some of these did eventually launch ferocious attacks on my work. However, these were fringe figures, so they were very slow off the mark in their responses and lacked significant credibility or media support. Therefore, their complaints had little impact, especially because they were largely self-refuting.

My fiercest academic critic was a certain cancer researcher named Janet Mertz, a fanatic feminist whose previous public efforts had been focused on vilifying and refuting former Harvard president Larry Summers for his mild but impolitic suggestion that perhaps men might be a bit better at math than women, a position she regarded as utter anathema. To that end, she had published a 10,000 word peer-reviewed analysis of decades worth of International Math Olympiad participants, which convincingly demonstrated that across almost every time period and country, roughly 95% of the best mathematicians had been male and only 5% female. But she rather bizarrely claimed that this conclusively proved that males and females had exactly equal mathematical aptitude, and then persuaded Science Daily and other gullible media outlets to publish headlined news stories touting her powerful debunking of male chauvinist mythology.

Mertz was equally zealous in her Jewish identitarianism, and she had invested enormous effort in exhaustively determining the exact fractional Jewish ancestry of all of America’s recent Math Olympians. As a consequence, she fiercely denounced as mere “guesswork” my own estimates of Jewish numbers, based as they were upon a much more casual inspection of surnames, supplemented by Weyl analysis. I think my response was quite effective.

As it happens, she and her co-authors had exhaustively researched the ethnicity of the 1988-2007 American Math Olympians in their aforementioned 2008 article, and through a combination of extensive biographical research and confidential personal interviews had determined the exact number of full-Jews and part-Jews among those 120 individuals, publishing the results in their Table 7 mentioned above, together with the broader racial categories.

Given that I had produced my own ethnic estimates for those same students based on perhaps five minutes of cursory surname analysis, while Mertz and her associates seemingly devoted five weeks of research to the same task, I readily acknowledge that her results are certain to be vastly more accurate than my own. Indeed, if we regard the Mertz figures as the “gold standard,” then comparing them with my own numbers provides a useful means of assessing the overall quality of my direct inspection technique, a technique that constituted a central pillar of my entire study. This allows us to decide whether my approach was indeed just the worthless “guesswork” that she alleges.

Her peer-reviewed journal article determined that the 120 American Math Olympians from 1988-2007 consisted of exactly 42 Asians, 26 Jews, and 52 non-Jewish whites. My crude surname estimate had been 44 Asians, 23 Jews, and 53 non-Jewish whites. Individual readers must decide for themselves whether these estimation errors seem so enormous as to totally invalidate my overall conclusions, but personally I would be quite satisfied if they remained in this range across the tens of thousands of surnames I had inspected throughout the rest of my paper.

Obviously, such estimation techniques may be completely incorrect for tiny handfuls of names, and should only be relied upon across substantial lists. For example, in one sentence of my 30,000 word article I stated that just 2 of the 78 names of Olympiad winners since 2000 seemed likely to be Jewish, and Mertz has repeatedly attacked me for this claim, now pointing out that I had missed the Hebrew name of winner “Oaz Nir.” She is correct, and since Nir was a double winner in 2000 and 2001, this single surname error on my part accounts for virtually the entire discrepancy between my own 1988-2007 Olympiad results and those produced by the exhaustive research undertaken by Mertz and her three academic co-authors.

The only reason that I or anyone else even became aware of Mertz’s harsh critique of my analysis was the heavy promotion she received by Andrew Gelman, a professor of Statistics at Columbia University and a prominent blogger, who thereby apparently hoped to undercut my findings without directly involving himself and thereby risking his own reputation. But once I informed him of some of her previous scholarly claims regarding gender issues, he seemed to abandon the project.

A close Mertz ally was a much younger woman named Nurit Baytch, whom I actually encountered in person. As I was giving my lecture at the University of Chicago Law School, I couldn’t help but notice a rather short young woman sitting in the front row, glaring at me with a glassy-eyed stare. I am hardly a clothes-horse, but she was dressed very strangely, and when she afterward came up to “confront me,” her mannerisms and style of speaking were quite odd as well. All in all, her appearance much reminded me of the photos of female Weather Underground terrorists of the late 1960s, most of whom had also come from a Jewish background.

Eventually, Ms. Baytch wrote a massive document purportedly refuting my Meritocracy analysis, and since it was never published anywhere, she posted it on the Internet as a GoogleDocs file, which countless Jewish activists have subsequently cited as a conclusive debunking of my claims. But all her tens of thousands of words of complex verbiage cannot get around the simple fact that only about 6% of America’s high-performing NMS students are Jewish and the remaining 94% are Gentile.

Her other line of criticism was to denounce my use of the Hillel numbers for Jewish enrollment, which she claimed were completely fraudulent, though without any evidence buttressing her claim. Although for decades, these Hillel figures had been accepted without reservation by all our leading media outlets and academic researchers, I had actually treated them with some caution, perhaps being the first analyst to do so.

Similarly, nearly all our figures on Jewish enrollment were ultimately drawn from the estimates of Hillel, the national Jewish campus organization, and these are obviously approximate. However, the Hillel data is the best we possess for recent decades, and is regularly used by the New York Times and other prominent media outlets, while also serving as the basis for much of Karabel’s award-winning scholarship. Furthermore, so long as any latent bias in the data remained relatively constant, we could still correctly analyze changes over time.

Completely discarding as unreliable the tens of thousands of annual Jewish enrollment estimates compiled by Hillel over the last half-century would completely eliminate almost everything we know about the historical size and trajectory of the Jewish presence at thousands of American colleges, destroying the sociological studies of many scholars. But fortunately, it seems quite unlikely that the figures are as completely nonsensical as Baytch casually claims.

These Hillel estimates have been very widely circulated within the Jewish community for decades and republished in Jewish magazines, being primarily intended to help guide strongly-identified Jewish families in selecting a college campus with a Jewish enrollment in the range they considered necessary. For most families, the cost of a college education is one of the largest investments they will ever make, and if for decades, tens or hundreds of thousands of committed Jewish families had picked their colleges based on the Hillel numbers only to discover that those figures had no connection to reality, surely there would have been a huge and angry backlash. But there is no record of any such complaints.

For many years, Harvard Hillel had regularly claimed that half or more of all the white undergraduates on the campus came from a Jewish background, and if this figure were wildly inaccurate, surely someone at Harvard Hillel would have eventually noticed that error and corrected it, with the same being true for Yale, Columbia, Penn, and numerous other colleges. Obviously, the criteria used to classify a student as Jewish are somewhat elastic, and we can easily suppose that the estimate generally includes part-Jews who in any way identified with that community, and may have been been somewhat exaggerated due to ethnic boosterism. But it seems highly unlikely that the figures would be utterly and demonstrably false.

These arguments based on general plausibility are strongly supported by quantitative evidence, and ironically enough, it is Baytch herself who provided it. Around the time she produced her lengthy and unpublished document, Harvard Hillel was claiming a Jewish undergraduate enrollment of 25%, and near the beginning of her text, she claimed that figure was obviously false by citing a Harvard Crimson survey indicating that only 9.5% of the Class of 2017 were Jewish. However, she failed to notice that the survey referred to being religiously Jewish, which is entirely different than being Jewish in the broader ethnic or ancestral sense, especially since Jews are among the most secular population in American society and a full 42% of the Harvard students described their religious beliefs as atheist, agnostic, or “other.” Indeed, a worldwide survey finds that only 38% of (ethnic) Jews follow the Jewish religion. So if the Crimson survey were correct and Harvard Jews were typical in their religiosity, this would imply that 9.5% / 0.38 = 25%(!!!) of Harvard freshman were ethnically Jewish, exactly the figure claimed by Harvard Hillel. Fanatic ideologues such as Baytch sometimes have a tendency to score game-ending own-goals without even realizing what they have done.

 

In general, classifying an individual as Jewish has a rather protean nature, with somewhat overlapping definitions based on religion, ethnicity, and full or partial ancestry, allowing it to be drastically expanded or contracted for various reasons. I suspect that Baytch’s confusion on this matter was entirely sincere, related to the obsessive tendencies she exhibited in real life. But others may employ these shifting definitions based upon more pragmatic considerations.

It is well known that for many decades the American Communist Party and especially its top leadership was overwhelmingly Jewish, even at a time when Jews were just 3% of the national population. But Jewish community leaders were not pleased with this situation, and they sometimes flatly denied the reality, insisting that there were actually no Jewish Communists whatsoever—how could there be, when Communists were hostile to all religious belief?

Similarly, my findings that Jews were apparently enrolled at Harvard and other elite colleges at a rate some 1,000% greater than white Gentiles of similar academic performance must surely have set off alarm bells within the leadership of Jewish activist organizations, who wondered how best to manage or conceal this potentially dangerous information. With a high-profile Asian discrimination lawsuit wending its way through the courts and my own unsuccessful 2016 attempt to run a slate of candidates for the Board of Harvard Overseers, the likelihood of growing public scrutiny surely loomed very large.

Baytch’s apparent confusion between having Jewish ancestry and practicing the Jewish religion would have been well-known in these circles, and offered an obvious solution. If Jewish numbers were suddenly narrowed to only include those students who claimed to follow Jewish religious practices, the flagrant over-representation of Jews on elite campuses would be greatly reduced. Meanwhile, large numbers of lesser-qualified applicants of Jewish ancestry but no religious belief could continue to gain unfair admission by writing essays about their “Holocaust grandmas” with America’s 98% Gentile population being none the wiser.

For whatever reason, Hillel seems to have recently adopted this practice, drastically reducing its published estimates of the Jewish enrollment at Harvard and other elite colleges, thus eliminating a glaring example of ethnic bias by a simple act of redefinition. For example, the Hillel website now claims that merely 11% of Harvard undergraduates are Jewish, a huge reduction from the previous 25% figure, and a total suspiciously close to the Crimson survey of a few years ago which counted Jews only based upon their religious beliefs. The Hillel figures for Yale, Princeton, and most other elite colleges have experienced equally sudden and huge declines.

One very strong clue regarding this new definition of Jewish enrollment comes from Caltech, an elite science and engineering school which is quite unlikely to attract Jews professing religious faith. According to the Hillel website, the Jewish enrollment is 0%, claiming that there absolutely no Jews on campus. Despite this, the website also describes the vibrant Jewish life at Caltech, with Caltech Jews involved in all sorts of local activities and projects. This absurd paradox is obviously due to the distinction between individuals who are Jewish by religion and those who are Jewish by ancestry.

As the 1999 media firestorm engulfing Princeton demonstrated, in the past even slight and gentle declines of Jewish enrollment over a fifteen year period would provoke massive controversy and angry denunciations from Jewish organizations. The absolute lack of any organized response to the recent sudden disappearance of nearly 60% of Harvard’s Jews certainly suggests that little more than a mere change in definition had occurred.

 

Many years ago as a young and naive undergraduate, I would regularly spend my dinners discussing all sorts of political and policy issues with my fellow classmates in our Harvard dining hall.

Affirmative Action was a regular topic of our conversations, and I would occasionally note how odd America was in that regard. No other example came to mind in which an ethnic group had established a legalized system of racial discrimination against its own members, while similar sorts of systems aimed at excluding or disadvantaging rival ethnic groups were all too common in world history.

As the decades went by, I gradually noticed that the huge and continuing increase in the enrollment of non-white and foreign students at our most elite universities had caused a complete collapse in the enrollment of white American Gentiles, but oddly enough, no similar reduction in Jewish numbers. It was well-known that Jewish activists had been the primary force behind the establishment of Affirmative Action and related policies in college admissions, and I began to wonder about their true motivation, whether conscious or unconscious.

Had the goal been the stated one, of providing educational opportunities to previously excluded groups? Or had that merely been the excuse used to advance a policy that eliminated the majority of white Gentiles, their primary ethnic competitors? With the Jewish population numbering merely 2%, there was an obvious limit as to how many elite college slots they themselves could possibly fill, but if enough other groups were also brought in, then Gentile numbers could easily be reduced to low levels, despite the fact that they constituted the bulk of the national population.

Asians represented an interesting test-case. As their numbers rapidly grew, white Gentiles were consequently pushed out, and this process was celebrated across the academic community. But by the late 1980s, Asian numbers had increased to such an extent that they inevitably began to impinge upon elite Jewish enrollment as well and future increases would surely worsen the situation. And at that point, the process suddenly halted, with Asian numbers being sharply reduced and thereafter permanently capped. The implications of this situation were already in the back of my mind when I published my 1998 Wall Street Journal column describing some of these striking racial facts.

The current high-profile trial in Boston is widely portrayed by the media as a conflict between Asian-American groups, whose educational interests suffer under the current subjective and opaque admissions system, and black and Hispanic groups, whose numbers might be sharply reduced under some proposed changes. Whites are largely portrayed as bystanders, with Harvard indicating that their numbers would scarcely shift even under drastic changes in admissions policy. But the term “white” encompasses both Jews and Gentiles, and thus may conceal more than it reveals.

The implications of my 2012 Meritocracy analysis are certainly well-known to all of the prominent participants and observers in the ongoing legal battle, but the fearsome power of the ADL and its media allies ensures that certain important aspects of the current situation are never subjected to widespread public discussion. Asian advocates rightly denounce the unfairness of the current elite academic admissions system, but remain absolutely mute about which American group actually controls the institutions involved.

Throughout the enormous media controversy surrounding the Harvard trial in Boston, all sides are doing their utmost to avoid noticing the 2% elephant in the room. And that fact provides the best proof of the tremendous size and power of that elephant in today’s American society.

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