Time for racism at Harvard and our American education system to end

Time for racism at Harvard and our American education system to end
© Getty Images

Harvard has done much for this country in its 400-year history. Today, it may be about to render further service by unwittingly helping to dismantle identity politics. When a group representing Asian Americans recently confronted Harvard with hard evidence that its admissions policy discriminates against them, and mirrors the university’s dishonorable anti-Semitic past, it also sounded what could be the death knell for the shameful practice of using racial preferences.

In a motion for summary judgment filed in a district court in Boston, a group suing Harvard, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), made several damning allegations of racism in the Harvard admissions process. Included were accusations that the university uses a subjective “personal rating” criterion that hits Asian Americans with a “statistically significant penalty” relative to other applicants.

ADVERTISEMENT
According to the papers filed, Harvard’s own internal reports reveal that only considering academics in the admissions process would raise the proportion of the Asian American students admitted to Harvard from 18.7 percent today to 43.4 percent. Even when including “legacy” admissions and athletic recruitment, the percentage of Asian students would rise to 31.4 percent. The estimates were produced by an internal investigation conducted in 2013 by Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research (OIR).

A report by Duke Professor Peter Arcidiacono included a model that showed that an Asian American applicant with a 25 percent chance of admission would, all other things being equal, see his prospects rise to 35 percent if he were white, 75 percent if he were Hispanic and 95 percent if he were black. Arcidiacono’s report details how Harvard manipulates the “personal ratings” dimension in its admissions process to achieve the proportions the university seeks.

Academic and extracurricular ratings are objective. An applicant either has a high GPA and SAT score or passed a certain number of Advanced Placement courses. Similarly with the number and type of activities and hours per week involved, both are “easily measured” and “specific,” wrote Arcidiacono. Not so with fungible personal characteristics, where Asians were disgracefully rated lower.

According to the motion filed last Friday, “Harvard’s admissions officials assign Asian Americans the lowest score of any racial group on the personal rating — a ‘subjective’ assessment of such traits as whether the student has a ‘positive personality’ and ‘others like to be around him or her,’ has ‘character traits’ such as ‘likability … helpfulness, courage, [and] kindness,’ is an ‘attractive person to be with,’ is ‘widely respected,’ is a ‘good person,’ and has good ‘human qualities.’”

The motion detailed how Harvard acted defensively and hid evidence of its racist practices. When OIR presented its findings to Harvard admissions dean William Fitzsimmons, he “sat silently, ‘pausing and reflecting’ on what he had just heard,” the report said. Fitzsimmons “did not request any additional work from OIR into whether Asian American applicants were being disadvantaged,” according to the motion.

Nor did Fitzsimmons change Harvard’s admissions policies. The motion compared what’s being done to Asians today to what Harvard did to Jewish applicants in the early 20th century. It quotes the president of Harvard in the 1920s, Abbott Lowell, as recognizing that an outright quota “would trigger opposition and resistance.”

The way to go, hence, was to use the same manipulable criteria being used today and give admissions committee “authority to refuse admittance to persons who possess qualities described with more or less distinctness and believed to be characteristics of the Jews.” It is unlikely that the judge will issue a summary judgment. But by filing the motion, the plaintiffs were able to legally release many of their explosive findings.

SFFA founder Edward Blum has been behind other attempts to get the Supreme Court to finally admit that “affirmative action” invariably descends into discrimination by race. But this time the chances are much better because multiculturalists cannot make the case that the “oppressor class” of whites are the only ones being penalized.

The filing, moreover, comes amidst an awakening by Asian American parents, mainly those of Chinese and Indian origin, to how racial preferences dressed as affirmative action are keeping their children behind. Their actions have been given a boost by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ham-handed attempt last week to increase the number of Hispanic and black students, and reduce the percentage of Asian Americans, in the city’s eight competitive elite high schools.

Knowing what was coming, Harvard President Drew Faust again defended the pursuit of diversity as a goal in admissions. She wrote last week that the lawsuit was aimed at ending Harvard’s ability “to compose a diverse student body.” Faust added, “Harvard students benefit from working and living alongside people of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives as they prepare for the complex world that awaits them.”

This is how university racial preferences incentivize breaking up people into groups. But Harvard’s position is based on the invidious view that members of racial and ethnic categories share traits that are inherent to the group, which is a dangerous belief when applied to races recognized by science. It fatuous when the group is an artificial agglomeration of different races, as is the case with the “Hispanic” category.

Harvard receives federal financial assistance and is thus covered by the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is time for latter-day Lowellism in the admissions process to end.

Mike Gonzalez is a senior fellow in the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was a speechwriter at the U.S. Department of State under during the George W. Bush administration.