Friday, August 31, 2018

Where Affirmative Action is Affirmatively Wrong

You may or may not have heard this, but for a while now a group of Asian-American students has been pursuing an admissions lawsuit against ivy-covered Harvard University, the second-most prestigious institution of higher learning in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The premise of the suit is that Harvard discriminates against students of Asian descent, admitting them at a rate disproportionately low for the nature of their academic qualifications.  One position of the organization sponsoring the suit is prompted by the discovery that with the same qualifications that would lead to the admission of about 90% of black student applicants and 70% of Hispanic applicants, an Asian student would be admitted about 15% of the time.

This is fun.

It's fun as an MIT alum to ridicule the pomposity and virtue signaling of the other college down the road.  They look incredibly disingenuous, especially when they try to defend their processes.  "We are committed to a diverse student body ...", they say.  Yeah, like "diversity" is the most important factor in admission, or at least second only to how much an applicant donated to Harvard's bloated endowment fund.

At any rate, this suit was in the news yesterday when the Department of Justice took a holiday from protecting its own leadership's corruption, and actually did something productive.  They filed briefs on the side of the Asian students, and committed to be a part of the suit.

I don't know how Harvard actually defends this.  "Diversity" is such an amorphous, blobby term that it is darn near impossible to pin down what the goal is.  Think about it.  If you are to be textbook diverse, you pretty much need to come up with a quota system that reflects the population of the USA.  And if you do that, you have to define the tolerance limits -- if there are 6% Martian-Americans in the general population, then the admitted class needs to be perhaps between 4% and 8% Martian.

But it is impossible for Harvard to put numbers on diversity quotas.  For example -- and it is a sterling example -- about 2% of the American population is Jewish.  That's about one in 50.  But incoming classes at Harvard are about 25% Jewish and have been for years.  Do you think that Harvard feels the need to do anything at all about that?  And given the figures above on the comparative standards for admission across just Asian, Hispanic and black applicants, just how "Asian" would Harvard be, if they applied comparable standards in a race-blind way?  Maybe 70%?  Would that be wrong?  If so, why?

They can't apply the same strictures against Asian applicants to Jewish applicants to get the Jewish figure down closer to 2-3%, right?  But they can do whatever they want to Asian (and, for that matter, white) applicants, apparently.

So what do they do?  They stay far away from any quantification to define admission policy and toss out the term "diversity" as a desired goal, without ever defining how you know you have reached it.  That way, as with every action of the left, they never actually reach the goal, and have to keep in place the overreaching rules (or, in the case of government, the overreaching Federal programs) forever.  That allows them to maintain control and keep it within the entitled few, rather Obama-like when you think of it.

Harvard is contemptuous of the Justice Department intervening on behalf of the Asian students, of course.  They know better than anyone what is the right way -- the Harvard way -- and God help anyone, especially a Justice Department headed by someone from, God forbid, Alabama (and appointed by Donald Trump), who tries to tell them otherwise.

Long-time readers will remember this column that I wrote a couple years back, one that suggested that my own alma mater had not come close to figuring out when to declare victory in the diversity wars.  Please read it if you have not already.  If you went to MIT or know anyone who did, get yet another copy in the hands of MIT Admissions.  MIT had been using the same dangling carrot in front of itself for 50 years, without ever knowing how to declare victory.

Harvard is such an awesome target, though.  I want to hear them in court, answering questions like "What is your precise goal, qualitative and quantitative, for the outcome of race in admission?  We're waiting, please ..."  I'd actually like to have the Asian students themselves hire the noted Harvard Law professor emeritus, Alan Dershowitz, to defend them.  Can you imagine Dershowitz, who knows where all the admissions bodies are buried, asking insightful questions in court?

Let's see what happens here, because there is no win for Harvard.  And I love seeing them lose.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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  1. I had hoped that some of the other ivy league schools would have recognized a competitive opportunity, and declared themselves dedicated to excellence and achievement and, therefore ready to admit the best qualified applicants. Alas, they are run and staffed by people who politically agree with Harvard's faculty and administration, so there is no market solution here...unless someone out there is willing to start from scratch with a few billion dollars...

  2. And a white student has how much chance?