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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Harvard denies anti-Asian bias

Harvard’s admissions process is on trial, charged with bias against Asian-American students, reports Anemona Hartocollis in the New York Times.

Lawyers for Students for Fair Admissions argued that Harvard effectively sets a quota for Asian-Americans, who are less likely to be admitted than whites and others with similar or weaker qualifications.

Protesters at the “Rally for the American Dream” in Boston on Monday. Photo: Reuters

Harvard’s lawyer, Bill Lee, said the university’s “holistic” admissions process considers race as a factor to achieve diversity, but denied illegal discrimination. (Of course, Harvard is using an Asian-American lawyer.)

Tuesday, Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons discussed Harvard’s outreach letters to high school students.

In 2013, documents show, white and Asian students needed a 1350 (for women) or a 1380 (for men) on the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) to get a recruitment letter, while black, Hispanic, Native American or other minority students needed an 1100.

In rural areas, where Harvard gets few applicants, “white students and those who listed other or unknown as their race qualified for letters with scores as low as 1310, a break that was not extended to Asian-Americans there,” writes Hartocollis.

Harvard’s own internal reports, submitted in 2013 and then ignored, show how whites are advantaged, writes Aaron Mak on Slate.

If academic ratings were the only factor in admissions, Asian Americans would make up 43 percent of the incoming class. Once you consider legacy and athlete preferences, however, that proportion drops to 31 percent. Also taking into account extracurricular and personal ratings further drops Asian representation to 26 percent. Adding demographic factors to the equation then depresses Asian admissions to 18 percent. (The actual admissions percentage for Asian Americans that year was 19 percent.)

A follow-up report compared Asian-American and white applicants who were not legacies or athletes: Asian-Americans had stronger grades, test scores and extracurriculars; they did about as well in alumni interviews. But whites earned more points on the subjective “personal rating,” assigned by admissions officials based on students’ essays and recommendations by teachers and counselors.

Students are assessed on personality traits such as “likability,” “helpfulness,” “integrity,” and “courage.” Asian-American applicants are more likely to be seen as hard-working nerds.

Asian-Americans are very diverse. Some of these high-scoring kids are the children of educated, middle-class parents, while others come from struggling immigrant families and speak English as a second language. Yes, they tend to work hard. Many want to major in science and medicine, though they may hide that on their applications for fear of seeming “too Asian.” (Playing the violin also is seen as an overly Asian activity that should be downplayed on the college application.)

Getting into Harvard is not the only path to success. Smart and hard working is a good way to go through life. But I don’t believe these students are getting a fair shot.

Will the lawsuit lead to the end of affirmative action as we know it? Given the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court, racial preferences in college admissions may be on the way out.

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