The Justice Department confirmed last week that it is examining claims of racial discrimination against Asian Americans in university admissions.
What the investigation will likely uncover is that Harvard and other Ivy League schools use an unfair and unconstitutional process that restricts the number of Asians admitted.
This isn’t just an Asian problem. This should alarm all Americans.
Nearly a century ago, almost a quarter of all Harvard freshmen were Jewish. And the president of the school at that time, Abbott Lawrence Lowell, warned that the increasing number of Jewish students would ultimately “ruin the college.” So Harvard invented the “holistic” admissions system, which diminished an applicant’s academic achievements in favor of subjective factors, such as “leadership” and “sociability.”
Within a year, enrollment of Jewish students dropped precipitously.
A lawsuit filed in 2014 accused Harvard of having a cap on the number of Asian students — the percentage of Asians in Harvard’s student body had remained about 16 percent to 19 percent for two decades, even though the Asian American percentage of the population had more than doubled.
Compare that to other top schools that don’t ask about race in the admissions process. The California Institute of Technology, for example, is about one-third Asian. Thirteen percent of California residents have Asian heritage. The University of California, Berkeley is more than 40 percent Asian.
Asian students have higher average SAT scores than any other group, including whites. A 2009 Princeton study examined applicants to top colleges from 1997, when the maximum SAT score was 1600 (today it’s 2400). It found that Asian Americans needed a 1550 SAT to have an equal chance of getting into an elite college as white students with a 1410 or Black students with an 1100.
The way it works is that Asian Americans are evaluated not as individuals, but against the thousands of other ultra-achieving Asians who are stereotyped as boring academic robots. A 2011 Associated Press article featured students who are responding to this concern by declining to identify themselves as Asian on their applications.
The ideal outcome of this issue ultimately would open up more opportunities for students who are disadvantaged by income and struggling public schools. Race or ethnic heritage should not be a factor.