The Asian-American Challenge to Diversity Programs (Affirmative Action) at Universities

The long-running battle over affirmative action in higher education is usually portrayed as white resentment against special preferences for blacks and Hispanics. The Trump administration appears to be appealing to that historic resentment. However, the actual battle against affirmative action today is led by some Asian American groups who think that a test-based admissions system would bolster their numbers at elite universities. Thus, if the Trump administration pursues its animus against affirmative action (after a leak about its intentions, the Department of Justice denied that it would take up this matter), the beneficiaries are likely to be Asian Americans, not whites.

The New York Times published an article describing the critique of diversity programs at universities as fundamentally unfair, as viewed by some Asian American groups. Harvard, like many other universities (but not all) seeks to maintain a diverse student body. The admissions office takes into account more than test scores. The groups that have attacked these policies believe that the proportion of Asians admitted to selective universities would be much higher if test scores were the most important or sole criterion.

It appears from the data that Harvard and other elite universities are trying to maintain a diverse student body. Asian Americans today are under 6% of the population, but consistently have about triple that proportion in the classes admitted to selective colleges.

Harvard’s class of 2021 is 14.6 percent African-American, 22.2 percent Asian-American, 11.6 percent Hispanic and 2.5 percent Native American or Pacific Islander, according to data on the university’s website.

For the Harvard case, initially filed in 2014, Mr. Blum said, the federal court in Boston has allowed the plaintiffs to demand records from four highly competitive high schools with large numbers of Asian-American students: Stuyvesant High School in New York; Monta Vista High School in the Silicon Valley city of Cupertino; Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va.; and the Boston Latin School.

The goal is to look at whether students with comparable qualifications have different odds of admission that could be correlated with race and how stereotypes influence the process. 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.”

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.

In contrast, it says, in the same year, Asian-Americans made up 34.8 percent of the student body at the University of California, Los Angeles, 32.4 percent at Berkeley and 42.5 percent at Caltech. It attributes the higher numbers in the state university system to the fact that California banned racial preferences by popular referendum in 1996, though California also has a large number of Asian-Americans.

The data, experts say, suggests that if Harvard were forbidden to use race as a factor in admissions, the Asian-American admissions rate would rise, and the percentage of white, black and Hispanic students would fall.

The issue is now before federal courts.

from novemoore


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