Education Dept. dismissing racial discrimination complaint against Harvard is setback for meritorious Indian American students

College admissions should be color blind.

By Sujeet Rajan

Sujeet RajanNEW YORK: The U.S. Department of Education has dismissed a racial discrimination in admissions complaint filed against Harvard University by 64 Asian American groups, leaving it ultimately to the Supreme Court to decide the fate of some bright students who get left out from Ivy League universities because of their skin color. The US Justice Department, however, is yet to take a call on the issue.

The complaint against Harvard, filed in May, asking for an in-depth investigation of the university’s admission policies, was to end the practice of admitting fewer Asian American students despite their academic prowess, in the name of campus diversity. The grouse was that come admission time, affirmative action kicked in, merit-based, color admissions ignored. This translated to fewer Asian Americans admitted to Harvard, with a disproportionate number of Hispanic and Black students edging their way in.

The complainants, including the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) and the New York-based Pakistani Policy Institute, argued that there is high likelihood that some of these Hispanic and Black students were admitted more to balance out class diversity than on actual academic scores and merit. Asian American students who deserved a place got shut out.

A case in point: in the class of 2019 at Harvard University, of the 1,990 admitted students, 21% identified as Asian American, 13.3% as Latino and 12.1% as African American. The share of Asians at Harvard peaked at over 20% in 1993, then immediately declined and thereafter remained roughly constant at a level 3–5 percentage points lower.

The coalition of Asian American organizations pointed out that many studies have uncovered overwhelming evidence that Harvard and other Ivy League colleges has been engaged in systematic and continuous discrimination against Asian-Americans in the college admissions process, including:  using racial stereotypes, differentiated standards, and racial quotas.

The Department of Education, however, washed its hands of the messy situation, arguing that an ongoing federal lawsuit filed against Harvard by Students for Fair Admissions, an anti-affirmative action group, last November, is similar to the complaint.

However, lawyers representing Harvard have filed a motion to delay that particular lawsuit until a verdict is reached on Fisher v. University of Texas, another affirmative action case that the Supreme Court recently agreed to review a second time. The court will probably look at the case next year, which will determine future admission policies at the Ivy Leagues.

The Harvard Crimson reported University Vice President and General Counsel Robert W. Iuliano ’83 defended Harvard’s practice in a May statement, writing that Harvard’s “approach to admissions is fully lawful.” The university says its admissions philosophy is “holistic,” and it complies with the law.

The Asian American groups have voiced their dissent at the move by the Education Department, and vowed to keep the fight going on. It’s likely they may expand the complaint to include other Ivy League colleges too.

Swan Lee, one of the organizers of the complaint, told PBS that the system needs more transparency.

“We feel the Department of Education and the Department of Justice should have access to Harvard’s admissions records,” Lee said.

Lee says Harvard’s admissions process unjustly lumps together all Asians into a single group.

“People from all over the world came to America for equal opportunities. We are trying to bring those principles back to America,” Yukong Zhao, a Chinese American writer, who was one of the organizers of the meet, told CNN, earlier in May. “This isn’t just about discrimination and race. It is about justice for everyone, including people of all races, and social and economic statuses.”

Last year, in July, The American Bazaar had done a story on the racial discrimination faced by Asian American students at Ivy Leagues, and that in the last few years, several cases and probes have come up which involve an Indian American or a Chinese American student filing a complaint against Harvard, Princeton, and Yale for non-admission despite being academically perfect, but overlooked.

That story had pointed out Harvard’s treatment of Asian-American applicants had come under the spotlight as early as 1990, when stereotyping was found to be frequent amongst evaluators, such as this comment about one Asian-American candidate: “He’s quiet and, of course, wants to be a doctor,” according to a report by Bloomberg.

A report then by Kevin Binversie, the Web Editor of Right Wisconsin, had said that the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M) may indulge in ‘race-based grading’. The report quoted from an Op-Ed piece written by Lee Hansen, a professor emeritus of economics at UW-M, for the John William Hope Pope Center for Higher Education, a North Carolina-based think tank, about the latest “diversity” plan. “Representational equity” is being applied to levels never before seen, analyzed Binversie.

Hansen’s report calls for “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”

That of course, as the Bazaar pointed out, would lead to further discrimination against deserving Asian American and White students who score well above other students in SAT and subject-wise exams, in an effort to gain admission into schools of their choice.

According to Binversie, Hansen’s report means that “professors, instead of just awarding the grade that each student earns, would apparently have to adjust them so that academically weaker, “historically underrepresented racial/ethnic” students perform at the same level and receive the same grades as academically stronger students.”

According to “No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal,” a 2009 book co-written by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade, Asian-Americans need to score 140 points more than whites, 270 points higher than Hispanics, and 450 points above African-Americans out of a maximum 1600 on the math and reading SAT to have the same chance of admission to a private college.

Read that previous story in The American Bazaar here:

The Wall Street Journal in an editorial on Thursday headlined ‘Harvard’s Discrimination Dodge’ wrote about Harvard’s running for cover, delaying the issue: “Harvard University is looking for legal cover to justify discriminating against Asian Americans, and it has an ally in Washington.”

The Journal also noted: “The percentage of Asian-American students at Harvard and other elite universities has held suspiciously steady for two decades at about 18%, while the number of college-age Asian Americans has increased rapidly.”

It’s apparent that what Harvard and other elite colleges and universities are doing is blatantly wrong. It’s unfair to curb a student’s merits because of his or her color, and crush dreams.

It’s impossible for an Indian American meritorious student to turn Hispanic or Black come admission time, to secure a place at Harvard. Not everybody can be or want to be Rachel Dolezal.

(Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar)

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