The Stereotype of the “Model Minority” and College Admissions:
The term “model minority” was first coined by William Petersen in his New York Times Magazine article, “Success Story: Japanese American Style” in 1966, and later popularized by the media in the 1980s. Although intended to highlight Asians as a polite, law-abiding group who were able to achieve higher level of success than the general population through hard-work and innate talents, the term “model minority” has over the years morphed into more negative connotations of Asians being nerdy, docile, lacking any social or leadership skills whose “Tiger moms” push their academic geniuses or musical prodigies to excel at all costs in order to attend elite colleges. With rising numbers of qualified Asians applying to elite colleges like Harvard and a political landscape encouraging diversity and helping those underrepresented races in colleges, evidence has emerged over the years that Asian applicants were held to a much higher standard than other races for admittance.
After years of discussion with college officials, and governmental lawyers, a non-profit group called the “Students for Fair Admissions” sued Harvard in 2014, alleging that Asian applicants were being denied admission based on their race and racial quotas. A verdict for the case which was filed in the Federal District Court in Boston was finally handed down by U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs nearly a year after the trial ended on October 1, 2019.
SFA Alleges Harvard was Using their “Social Characteristics” Admission Metric to Surreptitiously Deny Asian Applicants Admission:
Herein lies the problem according to SFA. By lowering the more subjective “social characteristics” score of Asian applicants (scorers’ comments shown at trial often sounded much like the stereotypes widely heard “shy, too strong in math, not socially fitting in, docile, etc.), SFA argued that Harvard was lowering the high scores of Asian applicant on the objective metrics like SAT scores, gpas, and stellar extracurriculars. Thus, the combined “social characteristics” and “Tests/Extracurricular” scores would result in an overall lower admission score for Asian applicants.
Four Major Points Supporting Racial Discrimination:
Using internal documents, SFA backed their claim through (i) internal data of Harvard’s Admission Department (admission scorers’ notes of over 20k applicants, inter department emails); (ii) a comparison of test scores/admission/enrollment rates of Asians with other races over a 20-year period of time; (iii) a statistical comparison to a another prestigious college (CalTech ) who employed a race-blind approach; and (iv) the nearly identical admission method that Harvard used to exclude Jewish applicants in the 1920s.
Notes from Admission Scorers’ Show the Stereotypes and Bias Against Asian that Harvard and Other Ivies which was Tantamount to Race Discrimination
To show that Asian applicants were hurt by the subjective nature of the “social characteristic” metric, SFA showed thousands of actual notes from admission officers. One Harvard admissions reviewer wrote, “He’s quiet and of course, wants to be a doctor“. Another said that an applicant’s “scores and application seem so typical of other Asian applications I’ve read, “extraordinarily gifted in math with the opposite extreme in English“.
Wall Street writer, Daniel Golden, chronicled numerous stories of rejection to suggest that an anti-Asian bias exists with otherwise antiracist progressive university officials. For example, one student, Henry Park, son of immigrant parents who scrimped to send him to the prep school Groton graduated 14th in his class with 1,560 SAT score, ran cross country, and even co-authored a published paper in an academic journal was rejected to Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Stanford, and MIT. The response from MIT’s dean of admissions to Park’s rejection is telling, “It’s possible that Henry Park looked like a thousand other Korean kids with the exact same profile, and “that he wasn’t…interesting enough to surface ot the top”, but was “yet another texture less math grind“.
Statistical Data Show Racial Discrimination against Asian Applicants:
A number of independent reports, SFA showed that accepted Asian applicants needed to have SAT scores that were 140, 270, and 450 points higher than their white, Hispanic, and African American counterparts, respectively. These figures were similar for other Ivy League schools. Further, while the general population of Asians and their college applicants have been rising significantly over the past twenty years, internal Harvard records show that the average admission rates from 1995 to 2013 were 8.1% for Asians versus 11.1%, 10.6%, and 13.2% for whites, Hispanic, and African Americans, respectively.
CalTech: Race-Blind vs Race-Conscious Criteria:
To give context to the deleterious effect of Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy, SFA compared Harvard’s enrollment percentage with another highly academic school, Caltech. Unlike Harvard, Caltech has employed a “race-blind” admissions method that is based solely on merit. Comparing the enrollment rates between a school who uses a “race-conscious” criteria with a school who uses a “race-blind” criteria yields far different outcomes. At Harvard, Asian enrollment in for the last two decades despite the increase of Asians in the general population and in the amount of college applicants, was between 15% -20%. Conversely, Caltech race-blind admissions policy showed a marked increase in Asian enrollment from 25% to 43% for the same period.
Historical Use of “Character” as an Admission Metric to Reduce Jews
Using Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz and sociologist Jerome Karabel’s book, “The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton“, SFA showed how Harvard’s policies in the early 1900’s to blunt Jewish enrollment were remarkably similar, with the only difference being that the Asians had become the new “Jews”.
Admission Primarily Based upon Academics Prior to early 1920s: Prior to the early 1920s, admission to Harvard and other Ivy League schools was based primarily on grades and an entrance exam. Essays and personal interviews were not required, and extracurricular interests and other subjective indicator of “character” or “leadership” received little consideration.
White Male Alums Not Pleased with Increased Jewish Enrollment: In 1911, Harvard decided to make admissions more academically rigorous and enacted a “New Plan” which favored good students from public schools over poor students from prep schools. The result of the “New Plan” which coincided with large number of Jewish immigrants led to a significant increase in Jewish students (7% in 1900 to 21.5% in 1922). The increased Jewish population on campus did not sit well with the historical WASP males. “To find that one’s University had become so Hebrew-ized was a fearful shock“, one class of 1901 alumni wrote in a letter to Harvard’s president, A. Lawrence Lowell. “There were Jews to the right of me, Jews to the left of me. Are the Overseers so lacking in genius that they can’t devise a way to bring Harvard back to the position it always held as a ‘white’ man’s college?“. Harvard President Lowell felt equally appalled by what he termed the “Jewish Problem” that would “ruin the college” if it wasn’t dealt with.
1922 Effort to Reduce Jewish Enrollment with “Character” Criteria: In 1922, Lowell proposed a 15% cap on Jewish enrollment along with other policies to limit the “Hebrew” admission by placing greater emphasis on “character” rather than exam scores. While his proposal was rejected, a compromise based upon geographic diversity that was also aimed at limiting Jewish enrollment was agreed to by the faculty.
However, when it was clear that the “geographic-diversity” policy was not achieving its goals (by 1925, the percentage of Jewish students were 27.6%), President Lowell proposed that admission be based upon a more subjective “character” criterion. “To prevent a dangerous increase in the proportion of Jews, I know at present only one way which is at the same time straightforward and effective, and that is a selection by a personal estimate of character on the part o the Admission authorities“, Lowell wrote to the Admissions department.
Admissions based upon “Character” Decreases Jewish Admissions Dramatically: Adopting Lowell’s policy in 1926 yielded dramatic change. In just one year following the implementation of Lowell’s “character” based admission standards, the Jewish enrollment plummeted from a high of 27% in 1925 to just 15% in 1926! Jewish enrollment did not rebound until after World War II with administrators in 1952 still expressing their concerns that Harvard was being “dominated by Jews” which might cause a loss of “students from upper-income, business backgrounds.
Asians are the New Jews: Using the historical backdrop of the jewish students, SFA argued that Harvard’s current admissions of using “character” is essentially the same methods used to keep out Jewish students, with the only difference being a new disenfranchised group, Asians.
Judge Burroughs Upholds Harvard’s Race-Conscious Admissions Policy:
On October 1, 2019, Federal Judge Allison Burroughs ruled in favor of Harvard and its admissions “holistic” approach in determining admissions. What is this “holistic” approach? According to William Fitzsimmons, the dean overseeing Harvard’s Admissions for the past 30 years, Harvard tries to achieve a certain type of environment that does consider “race” in their “holistic approach” which weighs “social characteristics” and test scores. In testimony during the trial, Fitzsimmons noted that it was perfectly legal to take race into account in order to achieve diversity.
Judge Burroughs agreed with Harvard that considering race in admissions’ decisions are acceptable for the purpose of achieving diversity. She even offers her theories that the admission rate of Asians could very well be that Asians do not have desirable ” social characteristics”. In her opinion, she explained, “the partial cause of racial disparities in admissions rates is that “Asian American applicants’ disproportionate strength in academics comes at the expense of other skills and traits that Harvard values.”
Later, she writes that it’s “possible that the Asian applicants “did not possess the personal qualities that Harvard is looking for at the same rate as white applicants”, and “it would be unsurprising to find that applicants that excel at one area, tend to be somewhat weaker in other areas”.
In his Wall Street Journal article, “Harvard’s Asian Quotas Repeat an Ugly History”, Jason Riley called out the double-standard used in how racial groups are treated, “To Jews, such language and reasoning might sound painfully familiar. And if a judge today wrote that blacks or Hispanics excel at sports and have outgoing personalities, so it would be really surprising if they flourished academically as well, liberals would be calling for his head.”