Top universities such as Harvard have “double standards” in their admissions policies for “favoured minorities” such as black students and Hispanic students, an op-ed published Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal argues.
“There is strong evidence that racial balance is the highest priority at schools like Harvard, and holistic admissions are used to obscure the racial bean-counting necessary to obtain the desired racial mix,” Jason L. Riley, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow, writes.
Tellingly, Riley’s opinion piece is called “The New Jews of Harvard Admissions” — a reference to the university’s well-documented policies to keep out Jewish students during the early 20th century.
Riley’s op-ed follows a federal civil rights complaint filed last week by an alliance of Asian-American groups, who claim top-tier universities such as Harvard use racial quotas to deny high-performing Asian students admission in favour of other racial groups. Additionally, a group of recently rejected applicants calling themselves “Students for Fair Admission” sued Harvard last year, claiming the Ivy League university had strict limits for the number of Asian students it admits in each class.
“Students for Fair Admission’s complaint highlights data and analysis that strongly suggests that white, African-American, and Hispanic applicants are given racial preferences over better qualified Asian-Americans applying for admission to Harvard,” the group said in a press release when it filed the lawsuit.
In a statement, Harvard defended its admissions policies, citing its need for a diverse campus.
“Within its holistic admissions process, and as part of its effort to build a diverse class, Harvard College has demonstrated a strong record of recruiting and admitting Asian-American students,” Robert Iuliano, Harvard’s general counsel, writes in the statement. “As the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognised, a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions, including on race, transforms the educational experience of students from every background and prepares our graduates for an increasingly pluralistic world. It is and makes possible essential aspects of the College’s mission.”
Moreover, Iuliano noted, the number of admitted Asian students has increased from 17.6% to 21% over the last decade.
Still, Harvard’s policies towards Asians have been compared to its push to keep Jewish students out of the university at the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1926, Harvard moved away from admissions based strictly on academics to evaluating potential students on a number of qualifiers meant to reveal their “character,” according to University of California, Berkeley sociology professor Jerome Karabel’s acclaimed book “The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.” This policy effectively let Harvard limit its Jewish student population.
These policies eventually died out in the 1950s, according to Karabel, as World War II veterans began to enter college on the GI Bill, bringing with them a more serious outlook to their studies that re-emphasised academic rigour.
Today’s announcement follows a lawsuit filed against Harvard University in November 2014, which is seeking to prevent Harvard College from considering race as part of its effort to build a dynamic class that will enhance the educational experience for the entire student body. The College’s admissions policies are fully compliant with the law and are essential to the pedagogical objectives that underlie its educational mission.
When a similar claim — that Harvard College discriminates against Asian American applicants — was investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, federal officials determined that the College’s approach to admissions was fully compliant with federal law. That our approach to admissions is fully lawful remains true today.
In fact, within its holistic admissions process, and as part of its effort to build a diverse class, Harvard College has demonstrated a strong record of recruiting and admitting Asian American students. For instance, the percentage of admitted Asian American students admitted to Harvard College has increased from 17.6 per cent to 21 per cent over the past decade.
In his seminal opinion in Regents of University of California v. Bakke, Justice Powell cited the Harvard College admissions plan in describing a legally sound approach to admissions. Then and now, the College considers each applicant through an individualized, holistic review having the goal of creating a vibrant academic community that exposes students to a wide-range of differences: background, ideas, experiences, talents and aspirations.
As the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognised, a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions, including on race, transforms the educational experience of students from every background and prepares our graduates for an increasingly pluralistic world. It is and makes possible essential aspects of the College’s mission.
It adds significantly to the rigour and depth of students’ educational experience. It encourages students to question their own assumptions, to test received truths, and to appreciate the spectacular complexity of the modern world. This larger understanding prepares graduates to be active and engaged citizens wrestling with the pressing challenges of the day, to pursue innovation in every field of discovery, to make positive economic contributions and to expand humanity’s learning and accomplishment.
We will vigorously defend the right of Harvard, and other universities, to continue to seek the educational benefits that come from a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions.
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