The Corner

Culture

A Different Kind of Diversity

Commencement ceremonies at Harvard University, May 24, 2018. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

It’s been an open secret for a long time that Harvard and Yale viciously discriminate against Asian-Americans. Now it is getting even more public attention in light of a new lawsuit aimed to stop it. Harvard typically admits classes where roughly one in five students are Asian-Americans. This is done by systematically downgrading Asian-American students on the subjective portions of the admissions process. An internal review found that if Harvard only looked at academic achievement, Asian Americans would rise to 43 percent of Harvard’s class.

I wonder whether the Ivy leagues have made their problem on this score worse over time. By discriminating so heavily against Asian-American applicants at the high end, they may be contributing to the frenzied culture of teen-achievement across all of the Asian American subculture. The more the Ivies discriminate, the more Asians raise their level, causing Harvard to do more to keep their numbers down. It’s so bad that when you look at the statistics, Asian students are half as likely to be admitted as their white peers at top high schools like Stuvysant.

The admissions process to Harvard and Yale — really the two Super-Ivies – are going to command disproportionate public attention for a few reasons. First because they really are important credentialing institutions for the American elite. Second, because so many colleges try, in their own way, to make themselves as much like Harvard or Yale as they can.

Admissions processes at these institutions  are aimed at selecting at preserving the college’s elite status, and its representativeness of American society. Obviously, these goals conflict.  Harvard and Yale are inundated with applications from a society in which various ethnic groups achieve at uneven levels. They also have legacy and donor interests to serve.

The fact is that the politics of admissions are extremely tricky. Just consider this thought experiment.  If you allowed just the adjustment of admitting more  Asian-Americans based on merit-test scores, academic records- it would come primarily at the cost of admitting a smaller percentage of white students,  as the New York Times reports.  If for reasons of merit or the building effect of legacy admissions, the Jewish population of Harvard classes remains where it is, roughly 25 percents, you could quickly come to a place where admissions of non-Jewish whites drops into the low teens, while the country itself remains over 40 percent white and Christian. How will that play out in a world which a recent Supreme Court Case has discovered and penalized the existence of anti-Christian bias?

While I don’t have a politically-palatable solution for Harvard, there may be a way of helping to solve the overall problem for the top colleges. There should be a greater divergence of institutional mission among colleges. Cultivate diverse types of elite colleges.

Harvard could announce that its mission as a college is to provide the best possible education to a demographically representative slice of America.  Its admissions process could use a combination of lottery and quota systems to achieve that. Yale could announce a different mission. Perhaps it would chase after the existing cognitive elite, and promise to inculcate in them a strong sense of duty to others.  This will not fix every disparity in education, but it might more easily reveal them and end the culture of lying produced by “holistic” admissions. It would also encourage other colleges to take on missions to make up the slack. Catholic and historically-black colleges were often founded with a sense of urgency, hoping to give the best possible education to students who would not so easily make it into colleges that began as white Protestant seminaries.

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