Lawsuit over Harvard admissions has CA overtones

Harvard University is facing a well-financed lawsuit over its admissions practices, with plaintiffs arguing that the nation’s oldest, richest and most admired college enforces an anti-Asian bias every bit as real as the anti-Jewish bias seen in Cambridge and at other Ivy League schools in the first half of the 20th century.

The lawsuit, filed in Boston federal court, was prompted by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2013 in a case involving the University of Texas’ admissions practices. The court didn’t invalidate the Texas system, but it sent the case back to lower courts with an admonition that race had to truly be only one of several factors in weighing close calls in admission decisions — not the crucial factor.

University of California sign at west end of campus.The Harvard lawsuit, launched by the Project on Fair Representation and the Students for Fair Admissions, targets the same practice that has drawn fire at UCLA and UC Berkeley: a “holistic” evaluation of applicants’ merits that considers how much they have had to overcome and their personal qualities, among other factors.

In his recent book, “Cheating: An Insider’s Report on the Use of Race in Admissions at UCLA,” UCLA political science professor Tim Groseclose found black students were three times as likely as white students and twice as likely as Asian students to gain admission under “holistic” grounds. Proposition 209 sponsor Ward Connerly, a former UC regent, has long charged that UCLA, UC Berkeley and other UC campuses manipulate admissions to get around the race-neutral requirement of his 1996 law.

The numbers in the Harvard case seem to suggest that an Asian student quota exists. Over the past 20 years, Asian-Americans have comprised 20 percent of the freshman class with little variation.  As the Project on Fair Admissions — sponsor of the Harvard suit  — notes, over the past 20 years, the number of high-performing Asian-American high school students has doubled.

But Harvard’s freshman admissions suggest quotas for all races. In recent years, blacks have made up around 12 percent of freshmen, Latinos around 13 percent and whites and decline to state students a little more than half.

The numbers for UC’s top schools also suggest a de facto quota system. At UCLA, Asian-Americans consistently make up one-third of freshmen; whites about 27 percent; Latinos about 20 percent; and blacks about 4 percent. At Berkeley, Asian-Americans consistently make up about 40 percent of freshmen; whites about 30 percent; Latinos about 12 percent; and blacks about 3 percent. (The UC numbers don’t add up to 100 percent because they don’t have racial breakdowns for international student admissions.)

Asian-American state lawmakers seem satisfied with this status quo and strongly opposed Latino and African-American lawmakers’ interest in weakening Proposition 209 last year. But Groseclose’s research found an interesting fact that could someday become a hot potato in California politics. “Holistic” admissions policies are supposed to weigh to a big degree on the disadvantages facing potential enrollees. Yet …

… race outweighs socioeconomic status, according to Groseclose. For instance, black applicants whose families had incomes exceeding $100,000 were about twice as likely to be accepted in round two [after holistic reviews] as Asian and white kids whose families make just $30,000 and had similar test scores, grades and essays.

While Harvard is a private institution, it receives tens of millions of dollars in federal funding with strings attached, making it vulnerable to lawsuits over admissions. Thus, virtually all U.S. universities are at risk of being sued over practices that appear discriminatory.

The Project on Fair Representation intends to sue other universities over what it sees as rigid racial quotas.

It’s interesting to note that incoming freshmen at Yale are also 20 percent Asian-American, as are those at Princeton.

In the most recent numbers from Stanford, Asian-Americans made up 23 percent of the undergraduate student body.

The first case in which the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on affirmative action in college admissions was the 1978 Bakke case, involving the University of California. More information on Bakke is here. The court found affirmative action to be constitutional — but not the use of racial quotas.


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  1. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 14 March, 2015, 10:45

    It’s a common misconception that affirmative action primarily harms whites. It does harm whites, but not NEARLY as much as it harms Asians.

    Damned Asians have too good a work ethic. And they study too much. Hence the government butcher must put his thumb on the scales of justice to “balance things out.”

    Disgusting, but that’s the policy — if not the admitted attitude. A lower qualified black student from a $100+K family has a much better chance of admission to many colleges than a highly qualified Asian from a $30,000 family.

    Asians are the neglected CA voting block too long ignored by the GOP. Only recently has the state and local GOP’s thinking on Asians begun to change.

    Reply this comment
  2. Bill Gore
    Bill Gore 14 March, 2015, 14:35

    The real Horror of Harvard is the idea that somehow your grade point average when you are 12-16 years of age qualifies you for an institution that, in our inbred age, has become defacto a ticket to elite status. We waste real problem-solving human potential in the USA with the same gusto as the old Soviet Union. Also, we need to recognize that asian cultural mores impart a distinct advantage to students in the western educational paradigm, which is centered around the memorization and creative recitation of facts. Ivy leagers tend to be pretty good conversationalists and networkers, but pretty bad at designing/building/improving.

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  3. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 14 March, 2015, 21:46

    While Harvard is a private institution, it receives tens of millions of dollars in federal funding with strings attached, making it vulnerable to lawsuits over admissions.
    Harvard dies NOT need ANY $$ from the federal government. They have tons of rich spoiled “legacy” brats that pay full freight, like George W. Bush. And Harvard pays full freight-for ALL expenses-for low-moderate income students out of their $33 BILLION, richest in the nation, endowment fund. If Harvard wanted to they could pay the entire cost of their entire undergrad and grad student body )from of the interest alone) out of their endowment fund.

    Reply this comment
    • Bill Gore
      Bill Gore 15 March, 2015, 07:07

      I think the bar has gotten pretty high for legacy brats at Almighty Harvard. There has to be at least one bench in Harvard Yard AND a named building for an UTTER MORON like dubyah to get in. When that idiot first gained national prominence I would cringe at his endless stream of malaprops and ‘lazy-isms’, then I started laughing. It was clear as a bell: the ‘meritocracy’ of the ivies is total BS..a sham…actually kinda funny in a twisted way…

      Reply this comment
      • Rex the Wonder Dog!
        Rex the Wonder Dog! 15 March, 2015, 09:36

        Most people don’t know what I am about to tell everyone here, but because I have relatives that have used “admissions coaches/advisors” (to the tune of tens of thousands of $$$ in costs) for applying to elite colleges I have inside info on buying your way into elite colleges. Well, any college. This admissions coach said he could get ANYONE into ANY college in the United States, including all the Ivy League schools, with an “athletic scholarship sponsorship” of $125K. He claimed a one time payment of $125K in the form of an athletic scholarship endowment (the school uses it for athletes, not the donor) would open ANY college door, including Harvard. I also know a very smart UCLA graduate that worked on campus for a well know UCLA Professor assisting in his research and she had applied to the UCLA Law School and was denied, so this well known Professor asked her if she wanted him to “pull some strings” so she would be admitted. She said no, not unless it was on her own, but he could have manipulated the admissions so she could have been admitted. True stories, both.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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