From the NYT:
Affirmative Action Battle Has a New Focus: Asian-Americans
By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS and STEPHANIE SAUL AUG. 2, 2017
… Students like Mr. Jia are now the subject of a lawsuit accusing Harvard of discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions by imposing a penalty for their high achievement and giving preferences to other racial minorities.
The case, which is clearly aimed for the Supreme Court, puts Asian-Americans front and center in the latest stage of the affirmative action debate. The issue is whether there has been discrimination against Asian-Americans in the name of creating a diverse student body. The Justice Department, which has signaled that it is looking to investigate “intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions,” may well focus on Harvard.
The Harvard case asserts that the university’s admissions process amounts to an illegal quota system, in which roughly the same percentage of African-Americans, Hispanics, whites and Asian-Americans have been admitted year after year, despite fluctuations in application rates and qualifications. …
The federal government potentially has the ability to influence university admissions policies by withholding federal funds under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids racial discrimination in programs that receive federal money. …
A Princeton study found that students who identify as Asian need to score 140 points higher on the SAT than whites to have the same chance of admission to private colleges, a difference some have called “the Asian tax.”
So Asians are 140 points (out of 1600 on a two-part SAT or roughly 0.7 standard deviations) worse off than whites, 270 points worse of than Hispanics and a hilarious 450 points (approaching 2.25 standard deviations) worse off than blacks. (Can that be right? That would be like an Asian at the 98th percentile of SAT scores having the same chance at a private college as a black at the 50th percentile.)
Also interestingly, the upper middle class are modestly favored over the middle class.
Note that these scores are from 20 years ago, and the Asian advantage in test-taking has been growing since then.
The lawsuit also cites Harvard’s Asian-American enrollment at 18 percent in 2013, and notes very similar numbers ranging from 14 to 18 percent at other Ivy League colleges, like Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Princeton and Yale.
The Bush Administration sued Harvard and 21 other colleges for running an annual cartel meeting called the Overlap Committee where they got together and decided who would admit whom. Shamefaced, Harvard agreed to stop their anti-competitive behavior, but MIT held out. The Clinton Administration came in and dropped the case against the colleges because, well, colleges are Good so mere laws don’t apply to them. (Moreover the Clinton Administrations was on its way toward deciding that anti-trust laws shouldn’t stop Exxon and Mobil from merging.)
But despite Harvard’s brief bout of conscience a quarter of a century ago over anti-trust, don’t expect Harvard to be a pushover for the Asians. First, those Asians who get in quickly get over their heartache over their friends back home who didn’t get in, those losers, and make lots of awesome new winner friends at Harvard. For example:
Some Asian-American students believe Harvard’s system has enriched their educational experience. Emily Choi, who will be a junior with a history and literature concentration at Harvard this fall, said the university had been her dream school since she visited in seventh grade. … she was glad of the diversity she found at Harvard.
“I firmly believe in affirmative action,” Ms. Choi said. “The diversity at Harvard has been key to my learning, and I think that if there weren’t so many people of different backgrounds, I wouldn’t be forced to think about things in new ways.”
Second, it’s not clear that even Asians want Harvard to turn into UC Irvine, which is only about 15% white these days. Smart whites are cooler than smart Asians.
Third, Harvard seems to be lucky at persuading courts to go along with whatever it is doing and wants to keep doing, which is probably not luck. In the 1977 Bakke case about affirmative action, for some complex reason the whole decision wound up in the hands of Lewis Powell who just wanted to do whatever Harvard did, which mostly involved using the word “goal” instead of “quota,” or maybe using “quota” instead of “goal.”
Fourth, Harvard really does study these issues quantitatively. Robert Klitgaard’s mid-80s book Choosing Elites recounts many of the studies and modeling Harvard ran in the 1970s to figure out what to do about blacks. Harvard has an endowment of close to $40 billion these days, so they are pretty good at getting what they want.
Fifth, Harvard has been Harvard for roughly 381 years now, so I wouldn’t bet against Harvard allowing itself to be inconvenienced.
By the way in the big affirmative action cases of 2003, Grutter and Gratz, Sandra Day O’Connor’s controlling decision seemed to put a 25 year time limit on racial quotas, saying she didn’t expect there to be any need for quotas in 25 years.
In 2017, we’re now 14/25ths of the way to the deadline. Has 14/25ths of the Gap closed?